“Texas Rangers” isn’t exactly storming into theaters with guns blazing.
You probably haven’t even heard of it, despite its huge cast of young stars — James Van Der Beek, Ashton Kutcher, Rachael Leigh Cook and Usher Raymond — alongside veterans Dylan McDermott, Alfred Molina, Tom Skerritt and Robert Patrick.
The movie originally was scheduled to open in April 2000, then August 2000, then May of this year. It finally reaches theaters without critics seeing it ahead of opening day, and with nary a penny being spent on publicity.
You’ve seen no slick commercials for “Texas Rangers,” no posters featuring Van Der Beek standing before a cluster of co-stars, his gun in the air pointing to the movie’s nondescript tag line, “Count your bullets.”
Van Der Beek and Kutcher didn’t even visit MTV’s “Total Request Live,” which is de rigueur for hot new actors promoting insipid new movies.
“Texas Rangers” should have been put out to straight-to-video pasture, especially since another, (barely) superior Western with up-and-coming stars already came out this year – “American Outlaws,” co-starring Colin Farrell, Scott Caan and Ali Larter.
This time around, it’s 1875, and Mexican bandits led by the devious John King Fisher (Molina) have crossed the Rio Grande to raid farms and ranches across South Texas.
The governor has asked the Texas Rangers to restore order, with former preacher Leander McNelly (McDermott) – who’s dying of a mysterious disease – as their leader. Patrick plays his second-in-command and country singer Randy Travis plays a gunslinger.
(Maybe Travis should have picked up a guitar instead and started singing – it couldn’t have made the movie any worse.)
Among the sundry group of recruits: Lincoln Rogers Dunnison (Van Der Beek), an educated Philadelphian who watched the bandits murder his parents; George Durham (Kutcher), who fantasizes about fighting after his father is killed; and Randolph Douglas Scipio (R&B singer Usher), who’s also been orphaned and worries he’ll have to serve as a scout because he’s black.
Skerritt plays a wealthy ranch owner who helps the Rangers, and Cook plays his daughter, who flirts with Lincoln and George, but is mostly an afterthought.
All these characters have back stories they can sum up in a sentence, just to establish who they are, and they’re never developed further.
The plot consists of what must be a dozen shootouts, each more noisy and tedious than the last, with bits of cliche Western dialogue that screenwriters Scott Busby and Martin Copeland have wedged in between:
— “Ain’t no outlaw stands a fightin’ chance.”
— “A gun’s no good unless you got sparks in it.”
— “You keep shootin’ ’til you taste that outlaw’s blood.”
McNelly says something along the lines of, “We’re Rangers, men. We’ve got right on our side,” so many times, it should be a drinking game.
And director Steve Miner — whose credits include the second and third “Friday the 13th” movies and the Gerard Depardieu disaster “My Father the Hero” — stages the shootouts so erratically, it’s impossible to tell who’s shooting who. They’re all just a whirlwind of swirling dust and flying horse tails.
A documentary on baseball’s Texas Rangers and their last-place season would have been more interesting.
“Texas Rangers,” a Dimension Films release, is rated PG-13 for Western violence. Running time: 90 minutes.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.