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Old-Fashioned Crime, Newfangled Camp In ‘Baytown’

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
January 10, 2013

During The Baytown Outlaws prologue — a bloody massacre scene that doubles as a credit sequence — director Barry Battles interrupts the carnage with comic-book-style panels. It’s a gambit he uses again later, and an appropriate one. This Deep South odyssey is a pulp fantasy and knows it.

“Baytown” is Mobile, Ala., home to the homicidal Oodie brothers: Brick (Clayne Crawford), the oldest and (marginally) smartest; Lincoln (Daniel Cudmore), a behemoth rendered speechless by a crushed windpipe; and McQueen (Travis Fimmel), who’s slightly more sensitive than the other two. They’re such dirtbags that they never change their clothing, the most conspicuous of which is Brick’s sleeveless Confederate-flag tee.

The Oodies are hired killers, but with a Dark Knight-ish twist — they target bad guys, and only bad guys. In fact, a visiting ATF agent (Paul Wesley) is beginning to suspect that the brothers are linked to the seemingly laid-back local sheriff (Andre Braugher).

After witnessing the redneck avengers’ assault on a house full of Spanish-speaking drug dealers, Celeste (Eva Longoria) approaches them with an offer: $25,000 to rescue her godson, Rob, from her ex, Carlos (Billy Bob Thornton), who’s in Texas.

There are several complicating factors, but the Oodies are too dumb to ask. So they’re surprised to discover that teenage Rob (ThomasBrodie-Sangster) is severely disabled — and, like Lincoln, unable to speak — while Carlos is a ruthless drug baron who’s quick to whack anyone who fails or crosses him. Furthermore, Rob is endowed with a generous trust fund, so Celeste and Carlos’ competing interests in him are more monetary than nurturing.

The Oodies grab the kid and head to a Mississippi rendezvous with Celeste. But Carlos sends three successive teams of killers after them, beginning with a gang of sexy hooker-biker-assassins who might have zoomed out of a Quentin Tarantino fever dream.

The movie also recalls the Mad Max series, specifically invokes the Terminator franchise and cracks a Sling Blade joke that’s funnier than Thornton’s campy performance.

The intentionally comic Baytown Outlaws isn’t much sillier than Killing Them Softly or The Paperboy, two more upscale recent Gulf Coast death trips. Although artistically slight and thematically haphazard, it’s enjoyably flashy.

Battles, who also co-scripted, leaves naturalism in the red ‘Bama dust. He punctuates the action with freeze frames and jump cuts, and gives the digital-video images an amber glow so hot, it’s almost psychedelic.

The movie’s vision is a gleeful mashup of old and new. The ethnic politics are complicated, with an African-American sheriff, Latinos prominent in the mix and a cameo by Michael Rapaport in which he plays a cartoon version of his Jewish, hip-hop-loving, New Yorker self.

Classic Dixie-rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd is on the soundtrack, but so are such Northerners as Clutch and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals — and, inevitably, some spaghetti-western music.

As might be expected, the charm of all of this fades well before the final showdown. It doesn’t help when Battles includes a brief exchange that promotes immigration reform, or stages a philosophical interlude before the final showdown. The Oodie brothers might not be very likable when they’re killing, but they’re even less appealing when they’re thinking. [Copyright 2013 National Public Radio]

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