When we first meet the hero of The Outsider, a Chinese railroad worker in the Old West, he’s relaxing in a cozy little tent on the prairie. His wife is beside him, and their home is decorated with tiny, folded paper cranes. And if you’re wondering how he got such a nice place, or managed to bring his wife here despite the Chinese Exclusion Act, or why he’s hung their home with Japanese origami – you’re definitely thinking too much.
Because The Outsider would prefer you didn’t think at all.
A bare-bones revenge Western, it stars Jon Foo as Jing Phang, whose life is about to fall apart, thanks to the local marshal’s racist, rapist son. But that which does not kill Phang, makes him stronger. Also angrier. And as he looks for justice, the bloody bodies begin to mount. Which would have made for a great Jet Li movie, about 25 years ago, but Foo isn’t that kind of star. He’s not a particularly charismatic actor, and if he has any truly astounding martial arts moves, the film hides them in the shadows, stranding him in dimly lit interiors.
The picture is the latest from Timothy Woodward Jr., who specializes in churning out action movies you never hear of – Silencer, American Violence, WEAPONiZED – until they loom before you one dull night as a last-choice, what-the-hell, video-on-demand. Bare-bones exploitation pictures, they deliver the grungy essentials – The Outsider has multiple killings, two sex scenes and rape – but not much more. The film’s just a couple of arbitrary acts of racist and misogynist aggression, and then an hour or so of tiresome vigilante reprisals. It’s like the Man With No Name met the Film With no Point.
Clearly, Woodward isn’t much of a director — his edits don’t always make sense and the fight scenes are badly staged – but at least he’s loyal. He uses the same people over and over, like screenwriter Sean Ryan, or actor Kaiwi Lyman, who plays the nastiest of this movie’s grimy villains. Neither is much use to him here, though. Ryan’s screenplay fails to provide Phang’s enemies – or single, sudden friend – with any motivation. Lyman’s performance has more ham than a country breakfast. The fact that the actor looks oddly, uncomfortably, like Eric Trump only makes things weirder.
There are a few bright spots. The great Danny Trejo shows up for a couple of minutes, but then almost immediately, abruptly disappears. (Was he being paid by the hour?) And there’s a solid performance by country star Trace Adkins, here playing the marshal. Adkins is another Woodward survivor – he was in an earlier, better Western, Hickok – but at least he looks right in his big hat and tin star, and his voice has the low rumble of authority. He’s the kind of man who tells you something, well, you best just listen. And wait – I think he’s giving you a piece of advice, right now.
Don’t see this movie, pardner.