‘The Lone Ranger’ Review
I loved 'Rango,' the last time Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski offered up a madcap spin on the Western. I basically enjoyed 'John Carter,' last year's Western-infused would-be space epic, which, not coincidentally, was the last time Walt Disney stock holders had to reach for a shaker of Tums.
However, 'The Lone Ranger,' this new spazzed-out Western from Depp, Verbinski and Disney, takes unusual and unlikely measures to ensure that audiences have a miserable time. There are momentary flashes of amusement, but it is jumbled, tone-deaf and uninteresting. If I wanted to be kind I'd call it dull and ephemeral, but there are long stretches that seem to strive to be annoying - almost anti-entertainment. The only thing 'The Lone Ranger' has going for it is a long life as to go-to description how not to make a blockbusters movie - this generation's 'Last Action Hero.'
'The Lone Ranger' has a something of an under-explained flashback device that I grew to like because it was one of the few original beats in the whole picture. A young boy dressed as the Lone Ranger goes to a "wild west" exhibit at a carnival during the 1930s. Amidst large scale dioramas of buffalo there is a window labeled "The Nobel Savage." The wax figure of a Comanche Indian comes to life and it is wacky Johnny Depp. He's not in full-on googly eyed Jack Sparrow or Willy Wonka mode, but it is close - and when you consider just how few roles there actually are for Native Americans and you see this, it is hard not to feel a tiny bit uncomfortable about the whole affair.
It turns out Tonto was a bank robber. Needle scratch. "Whaaaaaat?," says the little kid, who, for some reason isn't screaming because the statue is talking. Depp backs the story up a bit for some context.
Armie Hammer, more Ryan O'Neal than Channing Tatum, is an educated law man returning to his Texas Ranger brother and the West with his civics text books in tow. An outlaw (scarred and scary William Fichtner) is also on the train, about to be handed to the local rep of the railroad Tom Wilkinson for a hanging (or maybe that's a-hangin'.) Also tied up, for reasons we don't know, is a younger Depp with a bird on his head.
Fichtner's posse comes to allow an escape and lets in some fresh air for a well shot albeit ludicrous action sequence. Verbinski knows how to stitch together action like it is nobody's business and watching these guys energetically leap and spring and swerve all over the tops of trains is good fun. It's unfortunate that everything else in 'The Lone Ranger' alternates between the deathly serious and childishly silly. One minute we're facing the injustice of broken treaties with American Indians, the next minute there's a horse that drinks whiskey.
Later, Armie Hammer becomes The Lone Ranger and Johnny Depp reveals himself as Tonto. They decide they must capture William Fichtner. Oh, and save the girl. (There's a girl.)
After hours of plot that no one will care about we learn that the REAL bad guy is Tom Wilkinson. Oh, shocker, the big capitalist is evil. We're now at a point where enormous corporate-fueled family entertainment can paint the captains of American industry as demonic villains and it is played-out, predictable old hat. We've come a long way, I suppose.
Wilkinson is because he dares to have eyes for the girl who will eventually kiss the Lone Ranger on a horse (the same one that was drinking whiskey and who will later wear a hat). It's a shoe-horned love story (she's the Lone Ranger's brother's widow) and there's a part of me that respects the casual "aw, who cares?!" attitude of just tossing in cliche plot points with such abandon. Much like having Helena Bonham Carter show up as the gun-toting bordello madam or having Tonto mumble vagaries about "spirits" explaining the Lone Ranger's destiny. If you squint you can almost see people cashing their checks.
The "big finish" lasts about 20 minutes and involves not just one runaway train but two. It is amusing to watch in that an episode of 'The Woody Woodpecker Show' is amusing. I strongly suggest tuning in to the last chunk of 'The Lone Ranger' when it appears on basic cable.
In 'The Lone Ranger,' there are odd moments that are trying to be funny (like having the Indian Chief respond to a question with a shrug and saying "eh, not so much!" as though this were an adaptation of 'F Troop') and the dopey comedy just doesn't work. But, perhaps Disney would have been better off going straight spoof, following in the footsteps of 'The Brady Bunch Movie.' At least then, we could have groaned along with it, instead of at it.
'The Lone Ranger' opens in theaters on July 3.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.