Worth A Look: 29.55%
Just Average: 6.82%
Pretty Crappy: 36.36%
4 reviews, 20 user ratings
|Lone Ranger, The
by Brett Gallman
If we’re being honest, “The Lone Ranger” only earns its title for a 20 minute stretch during its climax, whereas the other 2 hours of this bloated, tedious affair are spent sprinting away from the property out of embarrassment and in the name of a misguided attempt at revisionism. As it turns out, the only thing that’s revised is everything that made The Lone Ranger appealing in the first place since Gore Verbinski and company have replaced him and faithful ally Tonto with a couple of incompetent assholes that bumble their way through a film that’s destined to become the poster child for mangled franchise resurrections.You can’t fault Disney for having faith in the Jerry Bruckheimer model that resurrected another moribund genre on the back of an eccentric Johnny Depp performance a decade ago. There’s sound logic in repeating a successful formula, but “The Lone Ranger” is an unfortunate reminder that logic is sometimes the only thing driving these sort of projects—there’s a quick rush for everyone to point out that something worked before, but it seems like no one tries to understand the stuff that actually made it work. When that happens, you get something like “The Lone Ranger,” which gives off the faint scent of ambition before it’s quickly snuffed out.
"A revival that soon turns into a sad wake."
There’s a kernel of an idea here that sees the film move Tonto (Johnny Depp) to the forefront, and it’s his story this time—literally. The film begins in 1933, in the shadow of modern progress that’s resulted in the Old West having become a tourist trap sideshow attraction in carnivals. When a young boy wanders into one of these exhibits, he comes across an aged Tonto, who begins to relay the story of his exploits in 1860s Texas, where a group of Texas Rangers are in pursuit of Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and his outlaw gang. Like in the canonized lore, Cavendish ambushes the rangers and kills them all, save for John Reid (Armie Hammer), who is eventually revived and nursed back to healthy by Tonto, who then enlists him as an instrument of vengeance in his own quest to vanquish Cavendish.
The shift in power dynamics is obvious but not unwelcome, at least not right out of hand. Unfortunately, the shift is too extreme—this John Reid isn’t actually a Texas Ranger but a reluctant, Thomas Locke-thumping lawyer who gets deputized by his older, more ass-kicking brother, Dan. In fact, Dan is the one that Tonto wishes to resurrect since he’s the “great warrior” he’s supposedly seen in a vision, so he spends the entire movie referring to John as “kemosabe” not out of endearment but because the phrase means “wrong brother.” That alone probably summarizes how misguided this effort is, but it gets worse since the two spend most of the film actively disliking each other while John constantly refuses the call to be the Masked Man. If there were a buddy cop movie where you really believed the two guys really hated each other and would never really get along, it’d look a lot like this.
At one point, the duo are trapped and are in danger of being eaten by scorpions (how can a film that boasts such a movie end up being such a slog, by the way?) before John manages to escape. Rather than immediately helping Tonto out of the precarious situation, he chooses to strand him before realizing he has to help him out not out of altruism or because it’s the right thing but because Tonto is the only one who can guide him to his next destination. It’s tough to subvert the status quo when you’re all too to reconfirm it.
And it’s even tougher when there’s a cringe-inducing red face performance bringing Tonto to life. Somehow, in the year 2013, no one stopped to consider the implications of having a white actor shuck in front of the camera and put on a mugging, cartoonish turn that makes Tonto a joke in a movie where he’s supposed to be repositioned as the hero. I’m not usually one to sound the PC alarm, but it’s confounding that a film that postures with such an approach can also reduce Tonto to the butt of so many jokes.
Even without this stuff informing the performance, it’s still a flat effort that brazenly transplants the eccentricities of Captain Jack and marries them to a highly affected form of broken English to create something of a patchwork collection of tics and oddities. Somehow, Depp went from one of our great character actors to simply turning “Johnny Depp” into a character, which only makes it harder to get behind his playing Tonto because there’s no way he can blend into it at this point—he’s just Johnny Depp playing an Indian shtick for laughs, essentially.
On the other hand, Hammer is just stuck playing a contradictory collection of blandness. At first, he’s the affable, fresh-faced city boy looking to bring order to the chaos of the frontier. He doesn’t think twice about upholding justice, and Hammer radiates the sort of heroism you’d want from The Lone Ranger…which is why it makes it baffling that the film does all it can to hamstring him by turning him into a sort of jerk who doesn’t like the Native American that’s saved his skin a couple of times. He also has creepy eyes for his brother’s wife (Ruth Wilson) that comes off more unbecoming than the typical sad/tragic romance that all of these movies demand at this point. Not even The Lone Ranger can escape the mopey hero syndrome, which might be just as well since he’s not much of a hero here; instead, he bumbles his way through most of his misadventures and doesn’t seem to be having much of a good time until the end.
Again, even that interpretation of The Lone Ranger would be valid if it meant something, but this isn’t a film that’s about anything, no matter how much it postures otherwise. And I can’t deny that it does a lot of posturing because it’s actually rife with the seeds of ideas and themes that never bear anything but rotten fruit. Not to beat a dead horse (which Depp actually does at one point, thus summing up the whole endeavor), but its mishandling of Tonto is baffling. When he’s introduced as “The Noble Savage,” there’s a refreshing sense of awareness of a culture that was quick to calcify an entire age and turn it into a sideshow attraction. Astute viewers can’t help but shake the notion that the movies of that era often did the same thing, and then “The Lone Ranger” goes and becomes yet another mythicizing of the Old West, a glorified game of cowboys and Indians that’s nostalgic for an age that it’s also constantly taking the piss out of.
That’s the inherent contradiction that the film can’t shake—if there’s a compelling arc to be found in this film, it’s in Tonto’s pushing John Reid to become a violent avenger, a vigilante that takes the law into his own hands. For brief moments, his refusal to comply makes perfect sense, especially when Tonto’s backstory (that’s of course revealed about halfway through for maximum convolution) makes him out to be a bloodthirsty lunatic that’s been exiled from his own tribe for 25 years. However, it also becomes the antithesis of the central conceit to peel back that Old West myth since it eventually revels in and glorifies frontier justice by turning The Lone Ranger and Tonto into borderline murderers during the otherwise rousing climax.
It’s very glib about it of course, which is expected of a film that’s constantly pushing against its own subversion. It’s a film that doesn’t shy away from turning the United States army into the bad guys when they slaughter a horde of Native Americans, but it also turns the shared anguish of the natives and Chinese immigrants into a punch-line. Ultimately, Verbinski’s reverence for Old West as a genre wins out—after aping the framing device from “True Grit,” he moves through other stalwarts, such as “The Searchers,” “Little Big Man,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” and the result is a thematically confused mess that stares a nation’s ugly past in the eye and blinks. If the mantra of “Liberty Valance” was to “print the legend,” then the message here is to “print it all—but then parody it for good measure.” You can have your white guilt but laugh about it too.
I’m still not sure how a film that’s as sluggish as “The Lone Ranger” can engender so much discussion on these levels, but it seems like Verbinski is committed to chaining himself to these big, overblown productions. If Michael Bay represents excess, then Verbinski stumps for sheer bloat. He at least charged through the overstuffed “Pirates” sequels with breathless abandon; those movies perhaps earned their runtime (okay, they really didn’t but bear with me) because stuff at least happened in those. Nothing really happens in “The Lone Ranger,” a film that degenerates into a tired, repetitive slog that finds the good guys chasing the bad guys until the requisite mid-movie twist (this film does an especially dumb riff on “the villain meant to be captured!” thing).
Actual developments are pretty scarce, and it winds up coming down to the same old evil railroad/silver grab stuff that wastes a talented cast along the way. Fichtner is a standout who looks great with a big scar and reminds us that he should have been playing any and all villainous roles Hollywood has to offer. Meanwhile, Helena Bonham Carter must have seen Depp wandering around and assumed this was another Tim Burton joint, so she show up as a brothel madam with an ivory leg that doubles as a gun (when you’re seeing exploitation staples in Disney movies, you know it’s time to retire them).
Barry Pepper once again proves his versatility as an army captain with shifting loyalties, while Tom Wilkinson is stuck in a more thankless role as the railroad tycoon whose turn towards evil is obvious from the moment he’s introduced leering at Wilson, who becomes just another damsel in distress. In fact, when it looks like she’s about to actually accomplish something during the climax, Tonto unwittingly knocks her out with a rock. I feel like there’s a scene that captures every wrong-headed approach this film takes, and there’s another one.
This is all very, very frustrating because Verbinski is talented as hell. His camerawork might be flashy, but it’s never incoherent, and he stages action with a fluidity and grace that often eludes modern blockbusters. Even when he’s not dazzling with big set-pieces, he has an eye for scope and frames shots with wide-brim hats in a way that echoes Leone. There’s just not enough dazzling, really—there are exactly two memorable sequences here that bookend the film in thrilling fashion. Both feature trains, and the second one finally kicks the film to life for the climax, which is the definition of unearned sentiment since Verbinski leans heavily on the William Tell Overture and iconic images of The Lone Ranger and Silver galloping across train cars and such.
By that point, I could only wonder why a movie with this title took two hours to even vaguely resemble what it’s supposed to be, especially after it spent all that time doing all it could to avoid it. These modern revivals are so preoccupied with building up to the status-quo when it comes to heroes, and “The Lone Ranger” might be the most egregious offender because it feels like a 20 minute short surrounded by a bunch of junk. And, if that weren’t enough, it doesn’t even allow itself to revel in The Lone Ranger of it all since its final scene kneecaps the famous “Hi-ho Silver away” rallying cry by having Tonto put the Masked Man in his place. How this guy has any tear-stained fondness for his “kemosabe” some 60 years later is beyond me.
I suppose that closing moment best captures what a misfire “The Lone Ranger” is because it truly captures its disdain for the property and serves as a reminder that Hollywood exhumed a corpse just to laugh at it for 150 minutes.The joke's on them, though, because, at this point, the most entertaining thing that Verbinski could do would be to stage a cage match with Burton for permanent custody of Depp. That way, at least one of them might grow.
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originally posted: 07/05/13 03:30:47