Your enjoyment of The Baytown Outlaws is likely to be directly proportional to how much you like watching assholes (of the figurative not literal kind). There is pretty much nobody in The Baytown Outlaws that could be considered a nice person, and indeed the lead trio are in some respects the worst of the bunch, with their only redeeming feature being that we stick around them long enough to discover there is some humanity under the Southern redneck violence and willingness to kill absolutely anybody without a second thought.
Brick (Clayne Crawford), McQueen (Travis Fimmel) and Lincoln (Daniel Cudmore) are the Oodie brothers, who in the very first scene charge into someone’s house, announce that they shoot people in the face for a living and kill everybody. However they then realise they’ve hit the wrong house. It turns out the Oodies are part of a corrupt sheriff’s plan to ensure his jurisdiction has the lowest crime rate in Alabama, which basically involves the brothers killing any ne’er do wells that take up residence.
Raiding the wrong house causes a few troubles though, with a straight-laced ATF agent (Paul Wesley) turning up and asking questions, which could bring down the entire operation. It also causes Celeste (Eva Longoria) to hire the brothers for a job – to go to the home of her criminal scumbag ex (Billy Bob Thornton) and kidnap her godson, Rob (Thomas Brodie Sangster). When they get there, things aren’t as they expect, and getting back to Celeste with the boy proves nearly impossible, with a slew of bloodthirsty gangs sent to kill them and take Rob back.
The plot description does sound fun, but like I said, if you like your films to be about people who are generally nice, this ain’t your movie. The Baytown Outlaws seems to take pleasure in ensuring nearly everyone on the screen is pretty much unforgivable, with the subtlety coming in the degrees of assholery on display.
Although I did begin to warm to the Oodies by the end, for the first half I found them unpleasant, annoying, juvenile and not very good company to be in. They reminded me of the guys in the Pepsi advert who are trying to get off work early, where you’re supposed to think they’re cool and sticking it to world, but to me they come across as boorish jerks. Well, the Oodies are the redneck, shoot-everyone-they-meet version of them. It doesn’t help that while Brick is the leader and brains of the clan, he comes across as more disagreeable than the funnier McQueen and the mute Lincoln.
Gay audiences may also find it difficult to overlook the film’s love of bandying the word ‘fag’ around. It may not be the worst thing the Oodies do in the film, but it’s unnecessary, unpleasant and distracting.
It’s an odd thing about Southern literature and film that there’s a strong tradition of centring them on the scummiest people they can find. In the best of these tales you’re thrown into a moral dilemma over whether to like the people or hate them, which was one of the most interesting things about the recent Killer Joe. Some people will probably find that with Baytown Outlaws, while others will simply sit back and enjoy the extreme violence and fast pace. There are going to be many though who will be turned off by how objectionable everyone is. While the Oodies are made more understandable by the end, I think the film will have lost many viewers’ sympathies by then, as it very nearly did me.
Fans of stylised violence will find much to enjoy though, with plenty of claret spraying and inventive scenes of extreme violence. It’s one of the ways the movie tries to channel Quentin Tarantino. Added to its pop culture references, love of wordy dialogue scenes, outsized characters (such as a gang of sexy female killers and some murderous Native American bikers) and general sense of carnage, writers Griffin Hood and Barry Battles (who also directed) don’t hide their love of Tarantino. It’s close to feeling like a slightly second-rate rip-off of the Pulp Fiction filmmaker, but Hood and Battles manage to infuse it with a sweltering Southern style and breakneck pace that allows it to be its own beast. The movie is also helped a lot by the fact the cast put in good performances, particularly Travis Fimmel and Andre Braugher (as the corrupt sheriff), which certainly gives things a lift.
It looks good on Blu-ray, with HD showing off the sweat and grime of the rural Southern locales, as well as the bloody violence. The audio is sometimes more problematic, with the sound effects often too loud compared to the dialogue, making it difficult to find a level where you can hear what’s being said without your ears exploding when the violence erupts. There’s a good ‘making of…’ Featurette amongst the extras, which gives a good feel for the creation of this low budget effort from first-time feature makers, and how they managed to pull together a pretty good cast and do quite a lot without a vast amount of cash.
Overall Verdict: The violence and cast of unpleasant characters will undoubtedly divide audience, but many will enjoy this blood-soaked, fast-paced Southern fried tale, while others will wonder whether they want to spend 99 minutes with a film where even the lead characters are pretty disagreeable most of the time.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac