A True Underdog
I know the phrase most of you are probably thinking if you have already seen/read some reviews on the quagmire that is Texas Rangers: you got to be fucking kidding me. Well, I am not. We are doing this one because the film from a macro standpoint didn’t deserve the shellacking it received. Don’t be mistaken though. I will defend and agree with the street consensus on a lot of the faults that can’t be ignored with this film; and there are some major ones. However, this film didn’t even have a chance from the get go and got a pre-mature spanking before it was even viewable, which turned off movie goers in a herd like fashion. The main reason, which we will get into, was the casting for the movie (ohh boy…). Believe it or not, this film had the potential to be an amazing Western with re-playable value, and a sure fire block-bluster.
Director: Steve Miner
Stars: James Van Der Beek, Ashton Kutcher, Rachael Leigh Cook
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
In the 1870s, on the lawless border between Texas and Mexico, the oldest law enforcement agency in America was born: the Texas Rangers, who became a lasting symbol of honor and valor. It was a time when Mexican bandito’s were raiding the border, Indian tribes were battling for their traditional lands and settlers were pushing west by the thousands lured by the promise of a new life. The rustic country along the Rio Grande River was in chaos as gang’s raided farms and family ranches, then took refuge south of the river, beyond the reach of local sheriffs and the US Army. Only the Texas Rangers had a chance to turn the tide and bring justice back to the people. One legendary man, Leander McNelly, is chosen to lead a band of improbable heroes- many of them young, inexperienced men in a battle with the renegade outlaws who made the Texas frontier the most dangerous place in America.
From the story-telling standpoint, we have what you would expect from this genre; a lot of gun play, manliness and a love triangle to soften things up. The script and writing is fairly conservative and is honestly sound. They could have been more ambitious with the film, however, given the cast they used to work with, the writing potential was maxed out the moment this film left the writers computer screen and went into the mouths of Kutcher and Van Der Beek.
To be fair, the fault does not lie solely with the two teenage heart-throbs. The writers could have added a little more meat to their characters as they seemed to be one-dimensional. Coupled with that, this film came out when everyone knew Dawson’s Creek and experienced the hay-day of Michael Kelso on That 70’s Show. With that said, the main fault and reason this film left a sour taste in people’s mouths, before and after, was the angle the makers tried to take with this film; a young and hip modern Western. Sadly, I just didn’t think the maturity in acting was there for the type of characters Van Der Beek and Kutcher had to play. It also doesn’t help that when you see James Van Der Beek you immediately start humming the song “I don’t Want to Wait” by Paula Cole. Golden-hair Der Beek and Catch-me-Kutcher actually did a fairly decent job in the film because they played their strength: amateurs.
Their characters were that of Rangers in training/amateurs, so why not go with it. I don’t know for sure if this is what the director ultimately decided or had in mind, but I think it worked well if that was the intent. Van Der Beek also played up his Dawson character well in his interactions with Caroline, Rachael Leigh Cooks character, who by the way played a role in saving this film from being the equivalent to a floater left in the upper deck of your toilet: an utter let down.
Rachael Leigh Cook was in a class of her own in this film. As a supporting actress, she supported the shit out of the amateurish Kutcher and Van Der Beek. Some say her role should have been more of a main one, but it was precisely the supportive nature of her character that made it all work. Rachael Leigh Cook’s acting was genuine, believable, and was not forced onto the viewer. She is immediately likeable and brings a magnetic softness to the whole story and leaves the viewer wanting more. The love-triangle between All-a-board Ashton and Golden-Boy Der Beek is fitting and Van Der Beek plays his Dawson character to a tee with his “there is a perfect moment for everything” attitude. Act what you know I guess, but it seemed to work. All in all, after a fort-night of shooting Mexican banditos and saving Texas, who wouldn’t want to come back to the ranch and see Caroline or Rachael Leigh Cook waiting for you? This angle resonated well, and again smoothed out the story.
Again, it seems that the supporting actors/actresses carried this movie. Dylan McDermott (Leander Mcnelly) I thought did a great job at portraying the sick and dying leader of the Ranger unit. Alfred Molina (John King Fisher) as the villain/bad guy in this film was also believable, and with a Spanish ancestral background he had no problem portraying his role with the banditos.
Last but not least, the saving grace, and true hero of this film, is Trevor Rabin who composed the musical score. The man had nothing really to work with, yet produced a score to which the film/acting did not deserve. This alone is why the movie had the potential to be a huge success. Every great film has an amazing soundtrack, it’s just sad when other parts of the production don’t match the high quality and professionalism that Rabin brings to the table. If you listened to the suite from Texas Rangers by Trevor Rabin, it’s fair to say that it oozes Texas and screams Western. With its quivering violins and soaring trumpets, Rabin to me nailed it perfectly, and produced a Western score to which is the best I have heard in a long time. Listening to the themed melody and the wall of sound throughout the film makes you totally forget its flaws and provides a mask to smooth out all the ugliness.
To sum it all up, casting is so very important as well as soundtrack. It’s a shame that one of them was sub-par in this film. If you can view the film and the actors as they are and not who they were in whatever TV show, then the movie is really not that bad and doesn’t deserve the title of “Worst Western” for this generation. It’s mediocre at best. That is why it is a true underdog.