Mario Van Peebles Returns to Westerns

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During the opening moments of Mario Van PeeblesOutlaw Posse, you might swear you’re watching a lost Sergio Leone film. There are the same intense close-ups of grizzly sweating faces, florid musical score and blazing credits that characterized the Italian master’s spaghetti Westerns. Of course, Leone’s films didn’t feature particularly diverse casts, nor did they include such plot elements as reparations to Black slaves.

Van Peebles — returning to the world of cinematic oaters more than 30 years after 1993’s Posse, to which this film bears no relation — displays an obvious affection for the venerable genre. Perhaps too much affection, since Outlaw Posse feels more like a pastiche than a continuation of a grand tradition. Unlike such contemporary filmmakers as Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner, who recycled genre tropes in fresh ways to produce modern classics, Van Peebles mainly seems interested in posturing.

Outlaw Posse

The Bottom Line

Home on the multicultural range.

Release date: Friday, March 1
Cast: Mario Van Peebles, William Mapother, John Carroll Lynch, DC Young Fly, Mandela Van Peebles, Amber Reign Smith, Jake Manly, Neil McDonough, Allen Payne, Madison Calley, Edward James Olmos, Cedric the Entertainer, Whoopi Goldberg
Director-screenwriter: Mario Van Peebles

Rated R,
1 hour 48 minutes

That’s evident early on, when his character, Chief, single-handedly dispatches a group of bad guys who make the mistake of harassing a Native American in a saloon. Not only does Chief display his superiority when it comes to gunslinging, he even makes one of them apologize on behalf of all white people for stealing their land.

Yes, it’s immediately clear that Van Peebles’ character is a badass (much like his father Melvin’s Sweetback), and, as we soon see, irresistible to the ladies.

After a period of lying low in Mexico, Chief returns to the American West to retrieve a cache of stolen Confederate gold he had hidden in an underground mine. To that end, he recruits the racially diverse gang that gives the film its title (even though they’re not really a posse). The ragtag assemblage includes avuncular Carson (John Carroll Lynch), vaudevillian performer Spooky (DC Young Fly), fast-draw gunman Southpaw (Jake Manley), and saloon girl Queeny (Amber Reign Smith), who’s particularly skilled with knives.

Every Western must have a villain, of course, and this one features a doozy in the form of Angel (William Mapother, determined to be memorable and succeeding), Chief’s former partner-in-crime, who lost one of his hands as a result of their quarrel.

Now Angel is out both for revenge and the gold, his replacement brass hand giving him the air of a Wild West Captain Hook. He manages to hunt down Coach’s long-estranged grown son Decker (Mandela Van Peebles, continuing the family tradition) and takes the latter’s wife Malindy (Madison Calley), a classically trained musician, as hostage. He makes her serve as his personal violinist, bringing him to tears with her rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” He also forces Decker to infiltrate his father’s gang and report back to him.

The film’s perfunctory storyline is less notable than its plethora of eccentric plot elements, such as Chief persuading Southpaw and Spooky, the latter wearing whiteface, to rob a bank disguised as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

There’s also an array of entertainingly colorful characters on display, including the real-life figure Stagecoach Mary (Whoopi Goldberg, continuing her late-career habit of amusing cameos); cantankerous shopkeeper Ossie (Edward James Olmos, giving Walter Brennan a run for his money); and Horatio (Cedric the Entertainer), the leader of a commune-like frontier town dubbed Lil’ Heaven, populated by, among others, Chinese immigrants.

Van Peebles generously provides his screenplay’s most memorable dialogue to the dastardly Angel. He helpfully explains that his distinctive nickname stems from the fact that “I make angels wherever I go” and at one point announces, “This country was made for wealthy, white Christian men. Like me!” (I said “memorable,” not subtle.) He’s the type of bad guy who, when asked to show his hand during a card game, slaps down the severed hand of a person who recently got on the wrong side of him.

It all feels quite silly, but Outlaw Posse manages to be fun anyway, thanks largely to the terrific ensemble of veteran character actors (including Neal McDonough and M. Emmet Walsh, making brief appearances) who fully embrace the film’s daffier qualities. And Van Peebles, looking decades younger than his age, still displays the formidable charisma he inherited from his father, the “OG Badass” to whom the film provides a fitting dedication.  

Full credits

Production: Konwiser Brothers Entertainment, Iris Indie International, Diamond Films, Good Folk Films, MVP Entertainment Management
Distributor: Quiver Distribution
Cast: Mario Van Peebles, William Mapother, John Carroll Lynch, DC Young Fly, Mandela Van Peebles, Amber Reign Smith, Jake Manly, Neil McDonough, Allen Payne, Madison Calley, Edward James Olmos, Cedric the Entertainer, Whoopi Goldberg
Director-screenwriter: Mario Van Peebles
Producers: Kip Konwiser, Joshua Russell
Executive producers: Mark Goldberg, Larry Greenberg, Kevin Greene, Matt Luber, Berry Meyerowitz, Steward Scott Mitchell, Gerald T. Olson, Jeff Sackman, Swen Temmel, Mario Van Peebles
Director of photography: Kurt E. Soderling
Production designer: Tessla Hastings
Costume designer: Yvonne Reddy
Music: Dontae Winslow
Editor: Andrew Shearer
Casting: Tina Buckingham

Rated R,
1 hour 48 minutes

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