The Notorious Van Peebles Gang


Actor and pulp auteur Mario Van Peebles has a new one out. Mr. Van Peebles has written, directed, and acted in movies like New Jack City, Ali, Heartbreak Ridge, The Cotton Club, and TV shows like Sons of Anarchy, Nashville, Empire, and Bloodline. His career is long, and his filmography is a walking tour of B movie genres. 

His first role came at 12 in his father Melvin Van Peebles’ breakthrough hit Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song (1971). He’s even made to resemble his father in the opening of his new film, Outlaw Posse. His character is introduced as a solitary figure sitting in the back of a barroom, bearded and shadowy. Then we see Mario’s soulful eyes and leading-man features, which underscore his Mexican/(Black) American heritage. As conscious as always of the stature of the Black man in America, yet not preachy, he fashions durable entertainments that leave an indelible impression all their own.

Generations are a theme of Outlaw Posse. The bond between fathers and sons is a motif, as are themes of righteousness, idealism, and reparation. He plays Chief, a sort of renegade Robin Hood, righting wrongs and forging justice for freed slaves, farmers, and common folk—stolen gold figures in a legendary stash everybody wants to get to first. Chief is joined by his son Decker (played by Van Peebles’ real-life son Mandela), whose wife (Madison Calley) has been abducted by banditos and who puts aside a past gripe to join his father’s campaign. (Fun fact: Mario played his father Melvin in his biopic Badasss!, 2004)

Outlaw Posse is cut from Spaghetti Western cloth, employing many tropes of the genre. There’s Sergio Leone’s influence in the title credits and music, as well as dashes of HBO’s Deadwood and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Set in 1908 Mexico, Outlaw Posse brings us big skies, saloon showdowns, bank robberies, and a dastardly villain named Angel (played by baby-faced William Mapother, one of the best bad guys on the screen), who sports a brass hand and whose credo is “You can’t tame the wild west and keep your clothes clean.” 

Mr. Van Peebles allows Chief some set pieces, including quick draws and a bravura 360-degree Steadicam sweep in the middle of a street. But he just as soon steps aside to let others shine. Generous time and business go to John Carrol Lynch as his sidekick Carson, DJ Young Fly as Spooky, a blackface minstrel (only a Black filmmaker could get away with that), and Amber Reign Smith as Queenie, a sassy knife-wielding dancehall singer. Jake Manley and Allen Payne round out Chief’s entourage.

Additionally, Outlaw Posse is populated with character actors you might not have seen in a while, like Coen Brother favorite M. Emmett Walsh, Whoopi Goldberg as a stagecoach driver, a grizzled Edward James Olmos, icy-eyed Neil McDonough, and Cedric the Entertainer as the purveyor of a nirvana-like village called “Li’l Heaven.”

Mr. Van Peebles wrote, produced, and directed Outlaw Posse. The filmmaking seems a little rushed, with some patches evident. Sequences aren’t as fluidly edited as they could be. Light diffuses through windows to enhance low-budget set dressing. The action stops for a talky bit of exposition in the middle of the movie. The faux-Morricone score by Dontae Winslow works a little too hard to guide our emotions (the music itself is another motif, and the soundtrack is packed with it). Modernity seeps through sometimes, with slang expressions, machine-labeled beer bottles, and contemporary talk of strategic “intel.”

But all in all, Outlaw Posse is another notch in the career of Mario Van Peebles, whose impressive filmography—over 100 acting roles in TV and movies and more than 50 films as a director—carries on a family tradition.


Outlaw Posse. Directed by Mario Van Peebles. 2024. A Diamond Films/Iris Indie International/Konwiser Bros. Media/MVP Entertainment Production. From Quiver Distribution. 108 minutes

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