How often do you see the words “Western action-comedy” in today’s films? I say not often, but Outlaw Johnny Black falls under the combined genre. The film is from the actor Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite, 2009), who holds black belts in several martial arts styles and is a writer and now director of the film. He is the co-writer, and Byron Minns portrays Reverand Percy and White stars as the title character. Westerns are still entertaining for me, and I viewed them with anticipation. I found some of the scenes and characters quite surprising initially, but overall, I settled in with the satire.
Outlaw Johnny Black is a gun-slinging cowboy who, early in the film, demonstrates his fighting ability and quick draw shortly after arriving at a small town. He doesn’t have a beef with anyone there; his goal for traveling is to find the man responsible for his father’s death.
In his attempt to help individuals being beaten unmercifully, he is accused of things and held by the local townsfolk. At first look, the individuals he is helping are wearing attire to give the impression they are Native American, but I was somewhat perplexed when I took a closer look. Audience members, this is a satire, so be prepared to see the characters differently. The writers continue to surprise the viewer throughout, so that it may come as a surprise, some humorous, but it is very creative.
White’s martial arts skills are displayed while villains confront him. Although he can be fast with his gun, those kicks take them out quickly. Johnny Black doesn’t want to be delayed in finding Outlaw Brett Clayton (Chris Browning), who killed his preacher father in front of him as a child. His vengeance is all-consuming and so high he lacks faith.
He continues his hunt, but the desert makes it nearly impossible. Lucky for him, Reverend Percy (Byron Minns in a significant role) finds him and invites him on his way to a mining town where he will become the new church pastor. He also has a potential bride waiting for him, Bessie Lee (Erica Ash), although they never met. The ambush makes Johnny think the preacher has perished, and heads out on the covered wagon left behind. Black wants to hide out to pursue Brett Clayton, but things take a turn for the preacher and others. This moment is another crazy scene back at Big Chief’s camp.
In a later scene, Russell Peters portrays Big Chief, a tribal chief wearing a headdress/ black wig. The writers do take liberty with timely issues by showing some members of the tribe to fit those themes. I won’t expand on it as it was unexpected, and I don’t want to give it all to potential viewers. Outlaw Johnny Black has some humor but may not always land well with all the audience members.
The mining town has many Black-inhabitants and awaits the new church pastor. Johnny Black thinks he will be there a day or two but learns about Bessie Lee’s sister, Jessie Lee (Anika Noni Rose), and her leadership role. She is at odds with a notorious Land Baron, Tom Shelly (Barry Bostwick), who wants the church property and will take it by force. Plenty of action will satisfy anyone who loves the Western genre. Some folks don’t know how tight this community is when the church community finds itself threatened.
Rating: PG-13, for violence, strong language, and some sexual material.
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes Release Date (Limited Theaters): Sep 15, 2023. The film is available in the Austin area and will be streaming later.
Source: Samuel Goldwyn Films, Jaigantic Studios