THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE LONE RANGER"
The Lone Ranger is not a concept or an idea, it's a mentality. The movie exists because a bunch of people thought they understood the necessary elements to manufacture a blockbuster. The formula they used is simple: take an already-established property, stage a handful of outsized action sequences to make it seem relevant to today's audiences, throw in some moments of winking humor to show that nobody's taking themselves too seriously (even though they are), and cast a big movie star to do a variation on the same thing he always does. As cynical as it sounds, that formula sometimes works. This time, it does not. Oh, how it doesn't work! The Lone Ranger is overblown, stupid, loud, unfunny, and completely maddening in its undisguised assumption that you'll swallow this nonsense whole.
Armie Hammer plays John Reid, a district attorney who returns to his hometown of Colby, Texas to visit his brother, a Texas ranger. When the outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) escapes captivity on his way to jail, Reid is made a ranger and asked to join the mission to retrieve him. Cavendish is ready for the posse, however, killing everyone except the new recruit. To bring him and his henchmen to justice, Reid teams up with an ornery Native American named Tonto (Johnny Depp) with his own reasons for wanting to catch the madman who, I should add, has a fondness for eating human flesh.
The Lone Ranger runs an unnecessary two-and-a-half hours, which is weird because there's at least an hour of material that could have been cut with no discernible loss. This includes a bunch of stuff about Reid's not-quite-a-relationship with his sister-in-law, a whole subplot about the railroad system being built, a few brief interludes with a local madam (Helena Bonham Carter), and a pointless, labored framing device in which an aged Tonto relates the movie's story to a young boy. All of these things serve to hit the brakes on any momentum the plot might have been able to work up. Consequently, The Lone Ranger is the kind of picture that makes you look at your watch a lot. It's hideously overlong, but it feels even longer than it is.
The bigger problem, though, is that in its incessant efforts to be grand entertainment, the film wears you down. In fact, the filmmakers made so many wrong choices that having fun is almost impossible. Problem number one is that they felt the need to “hip up” a series whose long-term popularity rests in its old-fashioned simplicity. Traditionally, the Lone Ranger has been a beacon of the Old West, a lawman who stands up for innocent victims with the help of his loyal sidekick. This movie turns them both into superheroes, regularly participating in elaborately-staged, over-the-top action sequences that are jam-packed with CGI effects. Is this really what anybody wants from the Lone Ranger? What's the point of adapting it if you aren't going to stay true to the tone of the source material? The action scenes go on and on, throwing in one thing after another, to the point that their bombastic nature becomes off-putting. Crazy action is fine, provided it's an appropriate fit to the material. Trying to turn the Lone Ranger into Iron Man or Spider-Man is a mind-bogglingly dumb move. On top of that, the movie includes lots of equally bombastic “comedy.” Reid and Tonto constantly bicker at each other like squabbling lovers, and the grand finale is a mishmash of stunts and slapstick. Because our heroes are often portrayed as a bit buffoonish, it's tough to take them seriously when they finally get around to cleaning up the town.
Shifting the focus so that Tonto is the main character rather than the Lone Ranger is another bad call. If they wanted to do a revisionist take, they should have called the picture Tonto and really embraced it. They also should have given the character more dimensions than he has. Native Americans have traditionally been portrayed onscreen as either “mystical” problem solvers or comic relief. Tonto is both. That he also adheres to the stereotype of speaking broken English makes him borderline offensive.
Let's talk about Johnny Depp for a minute. He's terrible in The Lone Ranger. Can we all agree that it's been at least a decade since Depp gave a truly interesting performance? Ever since hitting it big as Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, Depp has coasted. Most of his roles require him to put on a ton of makeup, wear silly costumes, and behave like a weirdo. Willy Wonka, Sweeney Todd, the Mad Hatter, Barnabas Collins, three more turns as Capt. Jack – you get the picture. He reaches into the same tired bag of tricks here, only the thrill is most definitely gone. There's no joy in his performance, no thrill of seeing something new. For that reason, I never saw Tonto, only Depp phoning it in. Armie Hammer isn't any better, failing to capture the heroic nature of the Lone Ranger. He looks lost amidst the special effects mayhem and Depp's insistence on being as kooky as possible at all times.
The Lone Ranger was directed by Gore Verbinski, who is an interesting filmmaker when he's dealing with smaller-scale stories (The Ring, The Weather Man) and less so when making big-budget blockbusters. This movie actually has a lot in common with his third Pirates chapter, At World's End. Both pictures are needlessly overstuffed, run way too long, and bombard the audience with so much convoluted “storytelling” that they become exercises in tedium. Sometimes simpler is better. In the case of the Lone Ranger, that's absolutely true, as The Lone Ranger painfully proves.
( out of four)
The Lone Ranger is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material. The running time is 2 hours and 29 minutes.
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