Everybody knows there are plenty of ways to suffer horrific injuries during the holidays. ‘Tis the season of death, you know. But in addition to the tragically common casualties caused by elf-tossing, hallucinogenic eggnog and rabid reindeer, few are aware of the dangers of Watching a Movie Dumped into Holiday Theaters by a Disappointed Studio. We call it WAMDIHTBADS, the cinematic scourge of this season of cheer.
At the WAMDIHTBADS Foundation, we’re committed to protecting families, the elderly and lonely single guys from this insidious syndrome. At this very moment, potentially toxic films lurk in multiplexes across the nation, just waiting to send you on that jolly old sleigh ride to catastrophic brain damage.
Education is the key to preventing WAMDIHTBADS from shoving a lump of coal down your holiday sock, so it’s in the interest of public safety that we draw your attention to Texas Rangers, a Western theoretically directed by Steve Miner and featuring about 195 actors who don’t have the collective talent of Gwyneth Paltrow’s left nostril between them. Principal photography on this film was completed about two years ago—back when Dawson’s Creek was a pop-culturally relevant TV show and Miramax could do little wrong with Dimension Films, its popcorn-movie imprint.
Once Harvey Weinstein saw a print of this film in early 2000, it’s been shuffled on and off the studio’s release slate for a jaw-dropping period of time. Most WAMDIHTBADS movies are dumped in the first Christmas season after they’re made, but Harvey waited more than a year to unobtrusively release this bad boy without advance screenings or any discernible publicity, even though it cost more than $30 million to make.
It’s so old, it’s one of the few films out there that can be examined through geologic technology. The script also was worked over by more writers and studio hacks than Marilyn Monroe—among them, John Milius (Apocalypse Now) and Ehren Kruger (Reindeer Games), though neither gets final screenplay credit.
Contrary to rumors from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Texas Rangers is not the story of a shortstop who gets a $252 million contract and then is forced to play on one of the worst teams in baseball, leading him to go on a murderous rampage through Radio Shack. It’s the story of Leander McNelly, a preacher who was put in charge of the Lone Star State’s legendary lawmen in 1875, running bad guys and Mexicans out of town. As played by slab-headed The Practice TV star Dylan McDermott, he’s a benevolent despot scarred by the memory of his family’s deaths. He also has no trouble yelling all the time, though he’s dying of tuberculosis.
His protege is Lincoln Rodgers Dunnison (James Van Der Beek, who apparently demanded a character name less goofy than his real-life name). He chronicles McNelly’s exploits and tries to look tough in a hat while disagreeing with his boss’s vicious methods. Ashton Kutcher, the fairly talented bonehead who brought so much pleasure to Dude, Where’s My Car?, is on hand for comic relief as one of the cowboys who go after John King Fisher, a bad guy of uncertain vintage played by Alfred Molina.
Aside from the delicious homoeroticism of James and Ashton taking a bath together, there’s little to stop Texas Rangers from being a ticking WAMDIHTBADS time bomb. It’s all simply a mess, full of painful Western clichés and artless gunfights on a joyless march toward a predictably melodramatic end. It’s a genre picture with no sense of why the genre was exciting in the first place.
This film also had more adventures in the editing room than in the plot—it’s cut with all the grace of a left-handed kindergartener stuck using the right-handed scissors. At least two characters who get shot turn up later in the film while it lurches up the steeper logic inclines.
Van Der Beek isn’t ready for the challenge of carrying the youthful lead in a film like this—though it’s doubtful anybody could make it work. McDermott just isn’t that interesting when he’s not channeling David E. Kelley, and the rest of the cast is variously embarrassing (Rachael Leigh Cook’s dire performance) and superfluous (Usher Raymond as the token black cowboy).
Don’t risk your life or the life of your young trophy girlfriend. Don’t tempt disaster in these festive times by seeing Texas Rangers. Use prudence and caution in the holiday season. Stick to drunken snowmobiling, Santa-pantsing and eating unmarked fruitcake.
Texas Rangers (PG-13) H Directed by Steve Miner. Starring James Van Der Beek, Dylan McDermott and Ashton Kutcher.