A scene from 'Texas Rangers'
Courtesy Photo
*1/2 stars 93 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, November 30, 2001
Directed by Steve Miner

Starring James Van Der Beek, Rachel Leigh Cook, Dylan McDermott, Ashton Kutcher, Randy Travis, Tom Skerritt, Jon Abrahams, Vincent Spano, Usher Raymond, Alfred Molina, Robert Patrick, Oded Fehr


This might as well be a bad TV movie, so watching on TV won't make any difference.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 04.16.2002


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Hacked to bits in post-production, "Texas Rangers" has plenty of clichés but no personality

By Rob Blackwelder

After spending two years on a shelf, "Texas Rangers" was sneaked into theaters this week without an ad campaign or screenings for the press. It's easy to see why Miramax's Dimension Films seems embarrassed by the picture -- it plays like it was led to slaughter in the editing room after being taken away from a director who'd read "Westerns for Dummies."

In the opening scene depressed widower and former lawman/preacher/Confederate general Leander McNelly (Dylan McDermott) is being beseeched to help the governor re-establish the disbanded Texas Rangers and restore order to the state, which has been overrun by bandits since the Civil War ended. He all but refuses, yet two scenes later he's riding into an Old West town with a star on his lapel, recruiting eager young gunmen to posse after a gang of sadistic cattle rustlers. What was left on the cutting room floor?

All we see in between is an introduction to idealistic and gentlemanly Lincoln Rogers Dunnison (James Van Der Beek), who joins the Rangers after banditos kill his maw, paw and brother. While it's made clear he can't ride, rope or shoot very well, half way through the picture he's chasing after a getaway wagon, lassoing the driver and being declared "a soldier fit to lead." Did I blink and miss a training montage?

So much of the narrative has been hacked away in this manner that these main characters have only snippets of personality (despite earnest efforts by McDermott and Van Der Beek) -- and heaven help anyone less important to the plot. A yokel enlistee played by Ashton Kutcher ("That '70s Show") can't seem to decide if he's comic relief or a melancholy cuss, and there are only remnants left of a romance with rancher's daughter Rachel Leigh Cook (star of "She's All That" and "Josie and the Pussycats"), who has only three scenes and a total of six lines of dialogue.

You know your movie is in trouble when the character with the most shading and definition is the token black guy. An ace gunslinger played by baby-faced R&B singer Usher Raymond, he spends his time on the trail grousing semi-comedically about discrimination ("President Grant is gonna be hearin' from me!").

As for the plot, which is based very loosely on the real history of the Texas Rangers, director Steve Miner ("Lake Placid," "Halloween: H20") seems stuck in a boring loop of genre clichés. The rag-tag Rangers pursue the cattle-stealin', civilian-shootin' and lootin' gang across the Rio Grande and engage in the occasional lifeless shootout when McNelly -- who is, of course, dying from consumption -- is outwitted (more than once) by simplistic outlaw trickery.

There's enough promise in a couple of the film's performances that I'd be curious to see Miner's first cut of "Texas Rangers," just to know how much of a disaster it was before being fed into a post-production wood chipper. But as released, the picture is so dead on its feet that watching the closing credits feel like reading a tombstone.


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