You can see why country singer Trace Adkins would be a natural to cast in a Western.
He’s got the growl, the tall-in-the-saddle stature, the ability to wear a hat like he’d be naked without it.
And his first moments in “The Outsider” cash in on all that promise. He strolls into the frame, in profile, a man in black in a black flat-brimmed hat and maybe a little too much hair-care in evidence.
“You’spect me t’believe one man, on UNARMED man, did all’a this?” he says, surveying a saloon with bodies scattered about.
It’s a rainy night — there are lots of them in this corner of the dusty Southwest, and all Marshal Walker wants to know is “What happened?”
“All hell broke loose,” the bartender mutters, cleaning up the crime scene as if it’s just another Thursday.
This slower-than-slow, sordid and sour Western is about “The Outsider,” an ostensibly unarmed Chinese railway worker (Jon Foo) who unleashed the hell that broke loose, and his reasons.
It’s a “Kung Fu” tale of racism, rape and revenge built on bloodless performances, limping longueurs between brief blasts of action, sexual violence and unsavory sex slapped in for good measure.
So it’s a lot rougher than the stuff Adkins usually ties himself to on the screen — the faith-based “Moms’ Night Out,” “I Can Only Imagine.”
There’s a “Chinaman” Jing, played by the Sino-Irish British-born martial artist Foo, whose adoring wife Li Phang (Nelli Tsay) waits for him in the laborers’ camp while he lays track all day.
They don’t speak Chinese on camera and don’t sport accents that suggest they’re recent arrivals. Their public displays of affection feel modern and out of place. And yes, it’s less than historical to suggest a common laborer would be able to get his wife into this country while still doing this itinerant work.
The marshal’s son Frank (Kaimi Lyman of the malnourished Western “Hickok” by the same production team) is a deputy, and all the deputies have the bullying swagger of “a law unto themselves.”
“I have ‘yellow fever,'” Frank purrs, spying Li Phang. “And I’m hoping that she’s the cure.”
You can guess what happens, and yes, it’s both graphic and oddly passive.
And you can guess what Jing, the stereotypical “man of peace,” does. He starts in on the deputies. And he sends a note.
“This stop when James Walker dies!”
Director Timothy Woodward Jr. (of “Hickok” and other B-movie action pictures starring folks like Dolph Lundgren) and screenwriter Sean Ryan basically turn their backs on Foo to focus the movie on the father-son dynamic and the army of deputies this small town is able to muster as fodder for Jing’s vengeance.
Frank can protest his innocence to Daddy all he wants.
“You are many things, but ‘innocent’ is not one of’em, boy!”
Daddy is even moved to go to church to pray for the kid, for a “quick” resolution to this mess, explaining his intentions to God, even though he knows his boy has “no good in’em.”
Sean Patrick Flanery is the tracker hired to hunt down Jing.
“Not today, you’re not.”
Danny Trejo has a glorified cameo as a Hispanic deputy who rides herd on the tracker.
“Do we have a PROBLEM Señor?”
“Well, ain’t you mad enough to fight a barr with a hickory switch!”
The dialogue is a strong suit of this teeth-grindingly slow picture, as is the use of shadows — dimly lit saloon to dimly-lit barn.
The central conflict, immigrant faces off with rural, racist cruelty in the form of murderously cruel “law enforcement,” is a solid foundation.
But “The Outsider” lurches along, a film that makes its compromises to quality painfully apparent in every scene.
Can’t get a charismatic star? Shoot around the guy you end up hiring. Realizing the horse opera audience they’re making this for might not take to its message of “Be nice to immigrants, or else?” Play that down. Put Trace in a church.
“God turned his back on us a long time ago!
The lofty place “Kung Fu” still enjoys in our culture suggests this is a movie that could have/should have worked.
But the pace is dispiritingly slow. The action bits are uninspired and rare. And the performances — only Flanery escapes unscathed, and Adkins would have been an asset had the picture not required him to carry it — have nothing about them that make us want to take “The Outsider” in.
MPAA Rating: unrated, rape, other violence
Cast: Trace Adkins, Danny Trejo, Jon Foo, Nelli Tsay, Sen Patrick Flanery
Credits: Timothy Woodward Jr., Sean Ryan. A Cinedigm release.
Running time: 1:26