Trace Adkins in The Outsider (Photo: Cinedigm)
★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Timothy Woodward Jr.
STARS Trace Adkins, Jon Foo
First, it was that episode of Game of Thrones. Then, it was the recent summer offering Godzilla: King of the Monsters. And now, here’s the indie Western The Outsider to suggest that maybe it’s time for filmmakers to consider buying a light bulb or two to help illuminate their sets.
In the case of The Outsider, much of the picture is set in the rain and in the dark, meaning that it gets pretty difficult to ascertain exactly who is doing what to which character. Then again, since the visible parts of the picture are so overly familiar, we can reasonably surmise that we’re not really missing a whole lot when the screen goes dark.
The outsider of the title is Jing Phang (Jon Foo), a Chinese railroad worker with a loving — and pregnant — wife named Li (Nelli Tsay). They’re blissfully happy together; unfortunately, the thoroughly despicable son (Kaiwi Lyman) of the local marshal (country music star Trace Adkins) gets struck with, as he states, “Yellow fever,” so it’s not long before he’s raping and then murdering Li. Jing swears revenge, but Marshal Walker had promised his late wife that he’ll protect their idiot son no matter what.
It would be natural to assume that Jing would be the hero of his own saga (more so given his expertise in martial arts), but director Timothy Woodward Jr. and scripter Sean Ryan apparently felt otherwise. In fact, neither Chinese character is treated very well by the filmmakers. In the case of Li, the camera lingers an awfully long time on her rape. And instead of following Jing as he plots his vengeance, the film shifts to the father-son dynamic between the marshal and his meathead son. When it turns back to Jing, he’s been replaced at the hero position by Sean Patrick Flanery, cast as a tracker who is hired by the villains but eventually teams up with the wronged outsider.
At least Flanery (still remembered in some circles for his turn as the young Indy in the TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones as well as a quartet of made-for-TV movies) contributes an interesting performance. The perpetually entertaining Danny Trejo is on hand, but his role as an antagonistic tracker is disappointingly tiny. As for the rest, Foo is dull, Lyman overacts outrageously, and Adkins seems content trying to channel Sam Elliott. Elliott, of course, was so magnificent last year in his Oscar-nominated turn in A Star Is Born. But the country music star? Despite a decade of appearing in movies and on television, it’s more accurate to state that, in his case, a star is stillborn.
(The Outsider is now playing in select theaters and is now available on iTunes, Vudu, FandangoNow, and other streaming platforms.)