- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2002

Galloping into the home-video corral this week via Dimension is director Steve Miner's hard-riding Western Texas Rangers. It's our

Video pick of the week
"Rangers" (priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD) gained a measure of undeserved notoriety after sitting on the Dimension shelf for well over a year before being unceremoniously dumped, sans press screenings, into a handful of theaters in late 2001. The film also reportedly underwent radical cuts to trim it to 90 minutes. All of which says far more about the sad state of the Western-movie market than it does about the film itself.
While normally associated with fright flicks (e.g., "Warlock," "Halloween H20"), Mr. Miner displays a confident knack for the outdoor genre in telling his at least semi-fact-based story (George Durham's nonfiction book, "Taming of the Neuces Strip: The Story of McNelly's Rangers," is credited as a source) of the titular frontier law enforcers.
According to the film, after disbanding at the outset of the Civil War, when Texas fought for the Confederacy, the Rangers were restarted in 1875 by the by-then-tubercular original founder Leander McNelly (a stolid Dylan McDermott) to rid the state of marauding Mexican and gringo outlaw bands under the loose leadership of John King Fisher (as interpreted by a sneering Alfred Molina, a classic villain resurrected intact from vintage B Westerns).
With lieutenants John Armstrong (Robert Patrick) and Frank Bones (Randy Travis), McNelly assembles a ragtag posse of mostly untried youngsters including an educated Easterner played by James Van Der Beek, a stuttering gun hawk played by Matt Keeslar and black sharpshooter played by Usher Raymond to confront the superior desperado forces.
With its paucity of subtext and character development, "Texas Rangers" does suffer a bit from a choppy narrative probably attributable to slice-and-dice editing. But if it's prairie-to-prairie action you hanker for, "Texas Rangers" delivers in spades, with energetically staged raids and running gun battles that amass a body count that rivals those of Mr. Miner's horror movies. While the cast isn't asked to stretch, all come through with honest performances that fit the pic's admirably earnest, unpretentious tone.
It's no "Wild Bunch," but "Texas Rangers" refreshingly rides clear of winking post-modern (e.g., "Young Guns") and self-important ("Unforgiven") territory while serving up genuine sagebrush thrills.

Golden silents
Kino Video (800/562-3330, www.kino.com) unearths a treasure trove for silent-film buffs with a trio of DVD releases tagged at $29.95 each. For Clara Bow fans, the label presents the double-feature DVD, Down to the Sea in Ships, the 1922 whaling adventure-romance wherein the "It Girl" landed her first major role, along with the exotic 1926 crime drama Parisian Love. Cecil B. DeMille lovers get their fill with another Kino twin bill, 1915's The Cheat and the 1922 jazz-age expose Manslaughter.
Champ silent-movie vamp Theda Bara, meanwhile, earns a solo disc with the fascinating 1915 melodrama A Fool There Was, based on the famous Rudyard Kipling poem (and later stage play) and featuring Theda as the ultimate femme fatale. The restored, color-tinted films include music scores by the Alloy Orchestra, along with archival bonus material.

Remake mania
Two high-profile remakes arrive next month: Warner Home Video introduces Steven Soderbergh's all-star Ocean's Eleven , featuring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt. Paramout presents Vanilla Sky , Cameron Crowe's big-budget clone of Alejandro ("The Others") Amenabar's 1998 Spanish indie "Open Your Eyes," with Tom Cruise, Kurt Russell and original "Open Your Eyes" co-star Penelope Cruz.
On the sequels front, Universal prepares an early May launch for the direct-to-video campus thriller follow-up The Skulls II .

'Highlander' redux
Speaking of sequels, Russell Mulcahy's 1986 sword-and-sorcery adventure "Highlander" spun off two theatrical sequels and a popular TV series. Anchor Bay Entertainment goes back to the source with its gala three-disc Highlander: The Immortal Edition ($39.98). In addition to the widescreen film, the DVD set includes audio commentary by director Mulcahy and producers Peter Davis and William Panzer, along with theatrical trailers, poster and still gallery, and a Queen Companion CD, with Queen music videos and extended soundtrack songs.

Phan mail
Dear Phantom: Is the H.P. Lovecraft film Re-Animator available on VHS or DVD?
Carl Mears, via e-mail
Stuart Gordon's 1985 cult fave, originally out on the defunct Vestron Video label, is available on DVD only, in a new special edition ($29.95) courtesy of Elite Entertainment (www.elite disc.com).

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