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The Independent Critic

Ryan Kelley, Arielle Kebbel, Brent Webber, Dan Byrd, James Gammon
Ryan Little
David Pliler
Rated PG
90 Mins.
KOAN/Allumination Filmworks
 "Outlaw Trail" Review 
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"Outlaw Trail," from the award-winning filmmaking team that brought us "Saints and Soldiers," is a throwback to a different era in cinema.

Similar in tone to many of Disney's early live-action films that you ended up watching with your family gathered around the television every Sunday night, "Outlaw Trail" is a simple, heartwarming and fun story destined to bring smiles to the faces of adults and children alike.

"Outlaw Trail" takes up where "Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid" left off. What really happened to Butch Cassidy? Did he really die in Bolivia, as legend would have it?

Or did he perhaps survive and return to the U.S. under an assumed name?

This is the question that plagues the heart of Roy, a young man (Ryan Kelley, "Mean Creek" and "Stolen Summer") who is a direct descendent of the legendary Cassidy. Unlike the rest of his family, however, young Roy is not ashamed of this black mark on the family name. Quite the contrary! Roy cherishes this family connection and, even more troublesome to his elderly Uncle (James Gammon), becomes convinced that Butch Cassidy didn't really die. He becomes determined to find out the truth about this uncle whom he never really knew!

Of course, things are never quite as simple as they seem and Roy runs into challenges, obstacles, bad guys and lots of sweet hilarity along the way. There's the dastardly museum director (Bruce McGill), whose famed Butch Cassidy exhibit is comprised of mostly pilfered memorabilia thanks to his duo of delightfully evil bad guys.

When both the museum director and Roy discover that there's a map that may, in fact, clear up the mystery of Butch Cassidy AND reveal his lost treasure, well, the race is on!

Roy is joined in his chase by his best friend Jess (a scene stealing Dan Byrd), his archrival Martin (Brent Weber) and the pretty new girl in town, Ellie (Arielle Kebbel).

Whereas many contemporary films would have been filled with mind-numbing special effects, lowbrow humor and hilarious gags of humiliation, filmmaker Ryan Little gives "Outlaw Trail" a retro feel that plays on the strength of the characters and the storyline. While this doesn't work all the time, it does create a film with a constantly positive, affirming feeling with enough depth and excitement to keep both adults and children interested.

The special effects that do occur in "Outlaw Trail" are old school special effects involving human beings and risky situations, rather than techno wizardry. The results may be less impressive to the eye, but they are more impressive to the heart.

What ultimately elevates "Outlaw Trail" above the mediocrity of many of those older Disney films is the 100% engagement of a cast that seems delighted to be in each other's company. While there are no master thespian moments in "Outlaw Trail," the performances are solid across the board with a lighthearted, sweet tone present throughout the film.

As previously noted, Dan Byrd steals every single one of his scenes by creating one of those "Aw, Shucks" characters you just can't help but love even while you're laughing at him. Similarly, both Ryan Kelley and Brent Weber fill their characters with just enough teenage angst, rebelliousness and foolishness that you can't help but simply shake your head and laugh. As the object of young Roy's unspoken affection, Arielle Kebbel brings Ellie an understated innocence that is endearing and heartwarming.

David Pliler's first feature film script takes a well known true legend and adds a fictional twist to it. The result is a film that is intelligent enough to have adults wondering "Is this true?" while simple enough to allow its younger target audience to follow the actions and understand the language. While the storyline is undeniably basic and familiar, the dialogue and situations are consistently authentic and appealing.

Production design, as well, is a throwback to the look of older Disney films, however, Little throws in marvelous cinematography of the already beautiful Utah setting.

While "Outlaw Trail" may not break any new cinematic ground, it projects a certain reverence for the hallowed grounds of family films past. With simplicity, honesty, sweetness and heart, "Outlaw Trail" is a wonderful experience for the entire family.

"Outlaw Trail" had its world premiere during the 2006 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis.

 © Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic