The Oodie Brothers, Brick (Clayne Crawford), Lincoln (Daniel Cudmore) and McQueen (Travis Fimmel) are badass but none too bright bounty killers doling out redneck justice across rural Alabama while Sheriff Henry Millard (Andre Braugher) turns a blind eye. Celeste Martin (Eva Longoria), a determined woman who survived being shot three times by hit-men working for her ex-husband, crime kingpin Carlos (Billy Bob Thornton), hires the Oodies to rescue her godson, Rob (Thomas Sangster), from his evil clutches. But a whole host of surprises await the brothers as the find themselves out-gunned and on the run from an array of outlandish assassins.
"Doesn't anybody know how to use finesse any more?" laments Billy Bob Thornton's reptilian crime boss, right before three gun-toting hillbillies smash a car straight through his living room. That about sums up the driving ethos behind The Baytown Outlaws: rowdy, rude and proud of it. Inspired by what in days gone by would have been called hicksploitation or redneck action pictures, this likes to think of itself as part of an authentic grindhouse revival wave but pilfers an awful lot from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's back pockets. You've got your florid speeches and posturing cool, energetic bar room shootouts, encounters with dangerous strippers, even an animated origin story for the Oodie Brothers that has fast become clichéd in the wake of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), along with the conceit of casting name talent in supporting roles whilst throwing a spotlight on lesser known actors.
The boisterous interplay between Fimmel, Cudmore and Crawford - a multi-talented actor, writer, director-producer whose own auteur work includes crime thriller Kingshighway (2010) and comedy Darnell Dawkins: Mouth Guitar Legend (2010) - is a key part of The Baytown Outlaws undeniable appeal and enables the film to transcend its derivative elements and find its own voice. There is a fine line between badass and homicidal maniac but against the odds, the Oodie Brothers emerge an endearing pack of lovable, if wildly violent, losers. When Rob turns out to be a paraplegic whom the odious Carlos is exploiting in order to help himself to the boy's inheritance, the revelation draws out the Oodies' fraternal, tender side as they endeavour to protect not just his life but his innocence and teach him right from wrong. This along with their poignant encounter with Ariana (Natalie Martinez), an illegal immigrant and nurse, show the film has more on its mind than just rough-house action.
Newcomer Barry Battles crafts a snappy screenplay along with co-writer Griffin Hood, but as a director too often lets the pace sag between hi-octane set-pieces, easily distracted by verbose but pointless cameos from the likes of Michael Rappaport as a surly bartender. Nevertheless the film exhibits a relatively solid theme about Southerners preferring to handle their problems in their own way. ATF agent Antony Reese (Paul Wesley, of The Vampire Diaries) skulks around the edge of the plot determined to bring the Oodies to justice, but is drawn as a well meaning nuisance who has little understanding of southern ways and openly hostile to his new surroundings.
Battles handles the action with a darkly comic verve pitting his dumb but resilient heroes against a surreal lineup of opponents, including a high speed chase with black road warriors aboard a huge armoured truck, Native American bikers that scalp their enemies, and a cameo from Death Proof (2006) stunt-woman Zoe Bell as the leader of a sultry all-girl gang of whore assassins styled after the classic bad girls of She-Devils on Wheels (1968) and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1966). It is visceral and exciting without coming across excessive or cruel, which is something Tarantino has not always been able to pull off.