A film review by Craig J. Koban July 11, 2013

THE LONE RANGER jj
 

2013, PG-13, 149 mins.

 

Johnny Depp as Tonto  /  Armie Hammer as John Reid / The Lone Ranger  /  William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish  /  Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole  /  Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid  /  Helena Bonham-Carter as Red  /  James Badge Dale as Dan Reid  /  Barry Pepper as Captain Jay Fuller

Directed by Gore Verbinski  /  Written by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, and Justin Haythe

THE LONE RANGER is a long, tedious, misshapen, and egregiously over-produced mess of a western.  It is, of course, a somewhat faithful, but mostly loose adaptation of the fictional masked Texas Ranger character of the same name that Ė along with his trusted sidekick, Tonto Ė became a popular fixture on television, fighting all sorts of frontier injustice.  There has not been a LONE RANGER film in nearly 32 years, and perhaps for good reason. The iconic character comes from a more innocent and innocuous time of unendingly poised and stalwartly courageous heroes; cracking this type of character and/or perhaps reinventing him for a modern age is daunting, to say the least. 

Yet, my main misgivings with the film are not with the talent on board.  You have the same writing, directing, and producing team that helmed the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films, which I, for the most part, enjoyed.  THE LONE RANGER has star Johnny Depp trying to embody the somewhat thorny and controversial role of Tonto.  The film also has good production values and sweeping, panoramic western vistas that we have not seen on the silver screen in what seems like forever.  Alas, as a pure origin film and hopefully a launching point for a future franchise, THE LONE RANGER is surprisingly flat footed, disinteresting, and tonally all over the frontier map.  Furthermore, it seems to take literally for an eternity Ė two hours by my watch Ė for the real gallant Lone Ranger of yesteryear Ė replete with the incomparable William Tell Overture theme music Ė to make an appearance in the film.  By this time, it was all but too late to garner my interest and excitement. 

Perhaps whatís worse is that the Lone Ranger is, throughout a majority of the film, a bumbling and uncoordinated sap that slowly Ė and I mean ever-so-slowly Ė learns to be an outlaw hero.  District Attorney John Reid (THE SOCIAL NETWORKís Armie Hammer) is in the process of returning a deliriously unhinged criminal Butch Cavendish (the deliciously evil William Fichtner) back home to his Sheriff brother, Dan (James Dale Badge) for trial.  Along for the ride is a railroad tycoon and businessman Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) that wishes to publicly hang the Cavendish to commemorate his massive rail system spanning the country.  Cavendishís posse spoils everything, and when John and his brother chase their once captured prey and track him down, they are ambushed and betrayed, leaving only the feeble minded and meek lawyer the lone survivor.  Granted, everyone else thinks heís dead. 

 

 

Thankfully, John is rescued and revived by a Comanche outcast named, yes, Tonto (Johnny Depp), who is on a justice-seeking mission of his own, seeing as he has been banished from his tribe for a past indiscretion.  Vowing to right the wrong of his brotherís death, John decides to join forces with his new Native American partner (he is not so much a sidekick as he is an equal, if not a superior warrior, to John) and becomes the masked vigilante that soon becomes known as the Lone Ranger.  Things get very complicated for this newly paired dynamic duo when Cavendish kidnaps the love of Johnís life, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) and her son, not to mention that a new villain, of sorts, reveals himself to the heroes.  It all culminates with a staple of the western genre: the extended train chase sequence. 

THE LONE RANGER was directed by Gore Verbinski, who has apparently studied past films by western masters in terms of giving his film appealingly expansive sepia-toned vistas.  He also seems to have a strong command of the filmís period specific production design; THE LONE RANGER is a handsomely mounted affair.  Heís also worked frequently before with Depp, who has a good rapport and sense of oddball chemistry with the much taller and pristinely cut Hammer.  Any modest amount of enjoyment to be had in a film like this is generated by the interplay between the two heroes, and Hammer and Depp seem to play off of one another with a cheeky and self-effacing aplomb.   

Unfortunately for both actors, and as likeable as they both are here, the Lone Ranger and Tonto never fully emerge as compelling creations.  I can understand the need for the makers to reinvent an 80-year-old character, but Hammerís Ranger is, for the most part, a clumsy oaf of a crusading vigilante (kind of akin to Seth Rogenís more enjoyable reinterpretation of THE GREEN HORNET) that sort of disagreeably ekes his way through the movie.  Hammer is handsome and has easy-going charm, but he never commands the screen, nor makes the Ranger an enigmatic and empowered force for good.  Granted, he has to play off of Deppís spirited shenanigans as Tonto, who does command interest with just about every scene he occupies.  Primed with ivory-white face paint and topped with a dead crow hat that he peculiarly feeds throughout the film, Depp displays what a master he is at creating wickedly inviting characters that are nonetheless bizarrely macabre.  Yet, itís clear that Depp and company are attempting, I think, to forge a Jack Sparrow-like figure of perpetual interest here in Tonto; he's oddly idiosyncratic and quirky like Captain Jack, but lacks the lingering staying power of him. 

The worst sin that the film commits, though, is that it never finds a confident or consistent mood.  There are instances when I did not have the foggiest clue if the film was trying to be a satire of the old LONE RANGER series or a semi-serious and grimly blood-soaked western or a mismatched buddy action comedy.  There are moments where Depp is allowed to play out sequences with a Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin-esque level of slapstick panache, but then these scenes are awkwardly balanced with grotesque instances of, for example, Cavendish literally cutting a manís heart out of his body and devouring it.  Lending further to the filmís ill at ease tone is a rather unnecessary framing device within the plot, which shows Tonto as a circus sideshow freak in the 1930ís that relays his past adventures with the Ranger to a wide-eyed youthful spectator.  The makeup job of Depp is superlative to age him 60 years, but you are kind of left wondering why these frequently obtrusive moments from the future needed to be in the film at all. 

THE LONE RANGER is also self-indulgently and unnecessarily long at two and a half hours, so much to the point that itís kind of startling how little plot momentum there actually is to be had during it.  Even though the film builds to a rather spectacularly realized finale involving multiple trains, THE LONE RANGER sheepishly feels like it was just spinning its wheels for two-plus hours just to get to it.  After awhile, the glaringly obvious CGI-enhanced horse races, shootouts, explosions, and noisy mayhem is just trying to cover up the filmís lack of a truly compelling storyline; the film just becomes more aggressively assaultive than exciting.  That, and at its all-kinds-of-wrong-headed price tag of nearly $250 million dollars, itís really, really difficult to see the money on screen here in any tangible way.  THE LONE RANGER is not as unlawfully wretched as many have led on it is, but it is certainly the most bloated, bland, and unimaginative misappropriation of massive Hollywood financial resources that Iíve seen in many a moon.  It appears that no amount of limitless cash flow could help this film find its groove and deliver on its intended promises.   

Plus, if you want to see a far greater Gore Verbinski directed western, see RANGO instead, even if it does have a chameleon for a protagonist. 

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