By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
Though The Lone Ranger first debuted as a Detroit radio show 80 years ago, the program’s accompanying musical theme – Rossini’s 1829 William Tell Overture — is instantly recognizable today. Strong, clear and optimistic, trumpeting the arrival of the pure-hearted hero galloping to the rescue, the theme’s tone is unmistakable. If only this latest incarnation of the lone Texas ranger and his Comanche companion managed a similar unifying tone. Instead, the filmmakers dip into a cacophonous medley of warring notes: silly one minute, heartfelt another, wacky, tragic, rude, mystical, wicked, sophomoric and, given that this is a Jerry Bruckheimer project, rigged with enough special effects to blast the Four Corners to kingdom come. Certainly the history of the American Indian’s disenfranchisement is sobering … no, wait, it’s played for laughs by a white actor in white face (Johnny Depp) as a Pidgin English-muttering Tonto. It’s as if Gore Verbinski’s prior film, 2011′s marvelous Rango, got lost amid the Trail of Tears in a buddy comedy served up with a side of Hannibal Lecter.
Sometimes something for everyone results in nothing for no one.
Which isn’t to say that the 149 minutes of whipsaw schizophrenia isn’t at times somewhat engaging. Armie Hammer does fine as the well-intentioned lawyer John Reid turned masked lawman, though the character could have benefitted from more depth from screenwriters Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (the latter two credited with the first four installments of the Pirates of the Caribbean series). Tom Wilkinson as the 1869 version of a Wall Street venture capitalist fits the bill nicely, and William Fichtner is grotesquely convincing as the outlaw cum cannibal. In an inspired bit of casting, the filmmakers employed British actress Ruth Wilson — best known to American audiences as the sexy sociopath in the BBC series Luther – to play the love interest. But Depp’s ever-growing predilection for costumes is bordering on the excessive; perhaps with big Hollywood projects turning so stale, Depp has taken to the mask to mask his own ennui.
Speaking of masks, Depp also plays a Little Big Man-esque version of himself at a 1933 fair, recounting his earlier adventures in the 1860s to a young boy (Mason Cook) who’s costumed in a Lone Ranger get-up. This storytelling device is an unnecessary schtick, interrupting the flow as the scenes frenetically bounce between 1869 and 1933. What made the dual concept work so well with, say, 1987′s The Princess Bride, was the fact that the relationship between the Grandfather/Narrator (Peter Falk) and the Grandson (Fred Savage) paralleled the growing friendship, trust and affection unfolding within the primary adventure tale. Here, there is no relationship. Depp overacts to beat the tom-tom and Cook, a dullish boy, is tasked to utter such lines as “Go on.” In short, the 1933 scenes are as unnecessary as the film’s fortieth train derailment.
As for trainwrecks, producing studio Disney hired screenwriter Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road) to rewrite Elliot’s and Rossio’s initial script that entailed supernatural werewolves and what-not. But the version onscreen doesn’t appear to be much improved. Multiple elements of the plot are muddy, and many of the impossible scenes of death-defying stunts have little grounding. We can’t help but harbor such thoughts as, How did the characters get to that destination and where are they going? And just what are they attempting to do? As for the crusading couple, they aren’t exactly best buds: Tonto drags Reid through horse dung, and Reid abandons Tonto, leaving him buried up to his neck in the sand to languish and die.
Thank heavens for the light-footed talents of the film’s “spirit horse,” the high-flying Silver. Sensitive, sincere, ever-wise and loyal, Silver is quite the winner – even though he, too, is the victim of much cinematic tomfoolery. (Look, he’s poised on the roof of a flaming barn! Look, he’s standing amid the treetops!) Yet he’s quite the equus thespis, incapable of whinnying even the slightest false note. That said, given this gazillion dollar horse opera, the fact that it’s the Lone Ranger’s steed who ultimately stands head and shoulders above the rest is, well, horsefeathers.
Shot in and around the Four Corners area of the Southwest, Verbinski’s film often allows us a fascinating look at the landscape of his version of the Old West. Such as the towering red rock mountains, ever-so-slightly grained as if we’re observing a tinted rendering from the past; the eye-filling carnival sets; the vertiginous whorehouse (overseen by Helena Bonham Carter’s Red, in too minor of a role); and the rich appointments of the interior of the railroad cars. But it seems as if the filmmakers couldn’t trust the project, piling on one special effect after another, ultimately burying the whole. Acting as if they, like Depp, couldn’t commit to this film unless they hid it under layers of excess.
In the meantime, let’s keep a lookout for a Lone Ranger thrill ride to debut at a Disney amusement park in the near future. If it materializes, it’ll probably be spectacular. And unlike the movie … it may even be worth the price of a ticket.
Rating on a scale of 5 Jay Silverheels: 2.5
Release date: July 3, 2013
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Screenplay by: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Justin Haythe
Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter
Running Time: 149 minutes