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Lone Ranger, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"If You Want A Good Lone Ranger Tale, Stick With Letterman On Christmas Eve"
1 stars

It is evident almost right from the start of "The Lone Ranger" that it has been carefully devised to emulate the surprise success achieved by the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie almost exactly ten years earlier--it attempts to resurrect a largely moribund genre via a familiar name, a storyline combining humor, romance and ridiculously elaborate action set-pieces and a singularly strange central performance by Johnny Depp that seems hellbent on redefining the world "eccentric." Hell, it even reunites most of the key personnel behind that film--including Depp, director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and co-writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio--to help recreate the magic. Unfortunately, despite their efforts (or possibly because of them), all they have managed to do is make something more in line with the later "POTC" sequels, those increasingly charmless behemoths that substituted the original's wit and genuine entertainment value with noise and bloat. Sheer arrogance was the driving force behind this project and the end result is so aggressively lackluster that I can imagine Klinton Spilsbury himself emerging from a screening and thinking "Phew--at least I wasn't involved with that."

Spilsbury, you may recall if you have a mind like a steel trap when it comes to half-forgotten pop-culture lore, was the unknown male model who was plucked from obscurity (and returned to it soon afterwards) to play the Lone Ranger in Hollywood's last major attempt to bring the adventures of the Western hero to the big screen in 1981's "The Legend of the Lone Ranger." By all accounts, that was a singularly terrible movie and one could write a book, albeit an incredibly boring one, about how it failed both artistically and commercially--to cite only three minor examples, the story was so silly that it actually posited that the Lone Ranger utilized silver bullets because he was a terrible shot and was told by his faithful Indian sidekick Tonto that using them would improve his aim, Spilsbury was so uncharismatic that the producers had to bring in James Keach to redub all his dialogue to make it sound more commanding and the film had the bad luck to hit theaters just as everyone was off seeing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Superman II." That said, for all of its conceptual sins, it at least seemed vaguely interested in the character and the mythos of the Lone Ranger. That is certainly more than you can say about this go-around, which has so little enthusiasm for the person it is named after that the character often seems like a bystander in his own story.

Set in Colby, Texas circa 1869, the film opens as fancy lad John Reid (Arrmie Hammer) returns home after years of book learning to becoming the town prosecutor, a version of the law far more civilized than the one practiced by his brother, heroic Texas Ranger and all-around good guy Dan (James Badge Dale). Also on the train are the notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), who is being returned to Colby at the insistence of railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) to pay for his crimes just as he is about to finally unite the entire country with his tracks, and Tonto (Depp), a mysterious Comanche Indian who utilizes an apparently dead crow (though he continues to feed it throughout the film) as headgear. Cavendish escapes in the first of the numerous action set-pieces and while pursuing him and his gang into the desert, Dan and his posse, including a freshly deputized John, are ambushed by Cavendish that leaves everyone dead and Cavendish, in what appears to be a vestige from an earlier iteration of the screenplay, making a snack of Dan's heart.

Of course, John isn't quite dead and when a mystical white horse arrives to attach itself to him, Tonto becomes convinced that this overly educated dope who refuses to fire a gun is indeed a spirit-walker who cannot be killed and who may be the one that he has foreseen would one day arrive to help him get revenge on the people who massacred his people when he was a small child as the result of an exceptionally bad trade on his part. John is having none of it--he has faith in the civilized ways of justice, thinks that Tonto is slinging a bunch of mumbo-jumbo and just wants to get back to town in order to protect Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), the newly widowed sister-in-law with whom he has always shared a mutual attraction, and her son while organizing another posse to find Cavendish. In the meantime, Cavendish and his men have been dressing as Comanches and causing trouble so as to inspire the U.S.Calvary to come in to wipe out the real Comanches and allow the railroad company to cast aside peace treaties and put tracks through their sacred land. Eventually, after much literal and metaphorical wandering around, John realizes that the only real justice comes from direct action, straps on his white hat and mask and Rossini's heirs finally earn a royalty, or they would if his music was still under copyright.

Unlike the dreadful Superman pastiche "Man of Steel," "The Lone Ranger" more or less sticks to the character's long-established history, at least in the broad strokes. However, apparently under the belief that modern audiences would not respond to a mythology that has been attracting generations of fans since it debuted in 1933, the decision was made to greatly expand upon it in order to somehow make it seem bigger and more worthy of a blockbuster movie franchise. Thankfully, they don't try to make it all dark and brooding in the hopes of coming up with "The Dark Knight" in chaps but the film too often lurches too far in the opposite direction into overblown farce in which the oddball Tonto is allowed to dominate the proceedings while Reid is reduced to being a noble dope whose naiveté is the butt of too many jokes. None of this stuff is particularly funny or incisive and there are other bits of weirdness strewn throughout, such as the bizarre appearance of Helena Bonham Carter as a frontier madam with an ivory leg concealing a double-barreled shotgun, that overwhelm the material instead of enhancing it. After all, is there anyone out there who thinks that the film really needed to have Butch Cavendish eat Dan Reid's heart in order to establish him as a proper bad guy? If there is, perhaps you can also explain the feral bunny rabbits that pop up from time to time for no logical reason. That said, it could have been worse. From what I understand, a previous iteration of this project that was famously scuttled at the last second due to a spiraling budget apparently threw werewolves into the mix, vestiges of which still remain in Tonto's frequent allusions to nature being out of balance. This might explain the rabbits but it hardly justifies them.

Beyond the self-conscious weirdness, the plot of "The Lone Ranger" is a real mess that tries to load so much extraneous material atop of its relatively basic premise that it often feels as if it is about to collapse upon itself. What might have made for a lean and mean 90-minute Western has been stretched out to a punishing 149 minutes with loads of extraneous material that adds nothing to the proceedings. For starters, the film has an unbelievably awkward framing device set in 1933 in which an aged Tonto, now working for a carnival, recounts the "true" story of the Lone Ranger to a little kid who knows him only as a radio character. (This appears to be an homage to "Little Big Man," one of the countless classics of the genre that Verbinski references throughout the film, including a shout-out to "The Wild Bunch" that is so egregious that even my jaw dropped at its sheer audaciousness.) The expansion of Tonto's character doesn't really add anything to the proceedings and certainly does not serve as any form of corrective to Hollywood's dark past in its whitewashed depiction of America's dark past in terms of relations with Native Americans. There is an attempt to shoehorn in an awkward romance between John and his former sister-in-law but all this stuff does is demonstrate why he was best as a Lone Ranger. It even tries to shamelessly inject some pathos into the proceedings by introducing a seemingly noble African-American character into the mix and then killing him off so quickly in his efforts to protect Rebecca and her child that they might as well have just named him Hallorann.

Perhaps suspecting that this stuff might not work out, Verbinski and Co. have crammed "The Lone Ranger" full of ridiculously over-scaled action sequences in which all known laws of physics and common sense are thrown out the window in order to provide the kind of wild money shots that will presumably lure viewers into the theater. The trouble is that in their efforts to outdo not only themselves but the entire history of the screen oater, they have created a heartless movie machine that doesn't so much thrill and transport audiences as it does bludgeon them into submission. There is such an effort to dazzle the eye at every turn that viewers are never given a chance to relax and simply enjoy the sights for a couple of seconds. There are massive explosions, elaborate gunfights, no fewer than two scenes involving runaway trains and other bits of budget-busting business but they come at such a relentless pace that none of them really get a chance to sink in. Also, as with nearly everything else with the film, the putative hero is rarely the focus of any of these scenes and too often gets lost in all the chaos. Finally, after more than 2 hours, he gets to take center stage by riding to the rescue atop of his faithful Steed Silver and with "The William Tell Overture" blasting in the background and the movie actually comes to life for a couple of minutes before devolving into an over complicated multi-level climax akin to those found in the "POTC" sequels.

Speaking of "POTC" and its sequels, those films also featured ungainly plots and action scenes that often threatened to overwhelm everything in their path but at least these flaws were counterbalanced, at least in the first installment, with the genuinely inspired performance by Johnny Depp as a pirate so outré that he seemed to fit in perfectly with his oftentimes chaotic surroundings. Since then, however, Depp has been collecting huge paychecks for performances that are little more than slight variations of Captain Jack Sparrow without any of the true inspiration that he once brought to the proceedings and that is most definitely the case here. Sure, the idea of casting Depp as Tonto must have sounded like a brilliant idea at first blush but after getting the check deposited, the makeup troweled upon his face and the dead crow slapped atop his head, it seems as if that is where the invention came to an abrupt end. The fact that he never figures out anything to do with the character beyond his usual hard-sell schtick is bad enough but the fact that the same person who once starred in "Dead Man"--the haunting 1995 Western from Jim Jarmusch that did offer one of the most intriguing and nuanced depictions of Native Americans in the history of the genre--could one day appear in a film that represents everything that film stood against is almost beyond belief.

This is good news for Armie Hammer because Depp's performance is such a miscalculation that few will notice that the guy who was so effective playing the twin brothers in "The Social Network" just does not cut it as the theoretical hero of the piece--even when he is supposed to have finally accepted his destiny, he still seems less convincing dressed as the Lone Ranger than the kid in the framing device. None of the other cast members make much of an impression--Wilkinson does pretty much the same performance that he gave in "Rush Hour," the usually reliable Fichtner is curiously uninteresting as Cavendish as as for tomboy beanpole du jour Wilson, she is pretty enough but I don't think that Keira Knightley should be worrying too strenuously about any potential competition quite yet.

Loud, lumbering and with such a leaden sense of humor that it seems as if it was written by people whose favorite line of dialogue in "Blazing Saddles" was "Rock Ridge? But that is where the train is going!," "The Lone Range" is a massive botch and the worst thing about it is that it didn't have to be that way. For as long as people have been making movies, they have been making Westerns and there have been enough good ones to suggest to filmmakers the ways of how to make one that is funny, exciting and entertaining. Hell, Verbinski and Depp managed to do just such a film a couple of years ago with their adorably strange 2011 animated feature "Rango"--maybe they just exhausted all their good ideas on that one and had nothing left to offer when it came time to do this project. Like so many films of its type, "The Lone Ranger" ends with a shot of its hero riding off into the sunset through the still-stunning vistas of Monument Valley. Unlike so many films of its type, most viewers will not be sorry to see him go by that point and very few will find themselves anxiously awaiting his return.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22565&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/03/13 12:04:40
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User Comments

9/22/16 The Nilbog It's slow around the middle, but I've seen Oscar winners about which you can say the same. 4 stars
5/29/16 stephen a spirited blockbuster made with soul and craft 4 stars
8/16/15 Don The critics give them a bum rap. A decent film. 4 stars
6/17/15 Leep In Warchable if watched at 1.5 or 2.0 speed, but too long otherwise 3 stars
12/18/14 Bents too much shifting around in theme and tone 2 stars
6/22/14 dr.lao "See how clever we are! We turned your parents' hero into a joke!" Yeah, whatever dude 2 stars
4/07/14 Mike magee I thought was fun. I liked a lot 5 stars
1/26/14 mr.mike Moves along nicely until close to the end when it slows to a crawl. 3 stars
1/01/14 Danielsan Not worthy of all the bad press. There's a lot going for it. 4 stars
12/25/13 edutra17 very fun, but too long. Depp is good. Hammer is OK but bland. 4 stars
10/23/13 Bernie Enjoyed the movie. Much better than other people give it credit for. 5 stars
9/09/13 Lorraine Thoanger As a matter of fact, I DIDN'T try to rate The Butler more than once! 2 stars
7/10/13 KIM Rollicking good time1 5 stars
7/08/13 Bob Dog Delightfully askew rendering of the original cowboy superhero! 5 stars
7/07/13 What's with the Old World Vultures in New Mexico? Incongruous mix of Dances With Wolves, Jesse James, and Blazing Saddles 2 stars
7/05/13 Bert A funny and entertaining movie. 4 stars
7/05/13 action movie fan although overlong and too comical has great train pursuit and others exciting moments 3 stars
7/04/13 Ciao Bella Enjoyed the movie. Deserves more than one star. 4 stars
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  03-Jul-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 17-Dec-2013

  09-Aug-2013 (12A)

  DVD: 17-Dec-2013

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