Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Review: "The Lone Ranger"
So what’s up with a Lone Ranger movie where Tonto is the chief character? Who wears an expired crow on his noggin and death-head war paint? And the titular Ranger is a whiny, kvetching, annoying ball of tics who saps the film of energy every time he’s onscreen?
What it is really is “Pirates of the Caribbean 5,” with Johnny Depp morphing his doofy Jack Sparrow character into a loopy, reimagined Tonto impression.
“Pirates” director Gore Verbinski returns with screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (plus Justin Haythe) for a redo of the same formula: big action set pieces, cackling villains, a bevy of bizarre secondary characters and plot twists, a tone that veers between slapstick and ominous, and Depp pulling out another one of his precious, strange-for-strange’s-sake performances.
The result is a swollen mess, alternately inane and dull. There are a few crumbs of entertaining bits, like the birdseed Tonto keeps trying to feed to his bird-helmet. But they get buried under an avalanche of ill-conceived story concepts.
Here the Lone Ranger isn’t even a ranger; rather, he’s freshly-minted district attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer) returning to his Texas hometown in 1869. His train is hijacked by confederates of notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish, who’s being transported to his hanging.
(William Fichtner terrifically embodies the sun-creased blackheart, who has a silver tooth, wicked lip scar and a tendency to eat portions of his dead enemies. Cavendish is so good, in fact, the character feels wasted in the movie around him.)
John’s brother Dan (James Badge Dale) is the local Texas Ranger captain, and puts together a posse to go after Cavendish. He reluctantly includes John, whom everyone dismisses as a city dandy.
You know what happens next: the posse is trapped and cut to pieces, with only John surviving. He’s revived from death’s door by Tonto, who dubs him a “spirit walker” who can’t be killed in battle.
The running joke of the movie is how unfit John is to don the Lone Ranger’s domino mask. He can’t shoot, hates guns even, and is indifferent at the standard cowboy skill set. In fact, Tonto would have much preferred his brother Dan be the one brought back to life. He calls John “kemosabe,” which here means “wrong brother.”
Depp is clearly having a ball with the Tonto character, who speaks in the familiar broken English from the TV show and has an imperturbable mien. He is constantly stealing from dead bodies, replacing valuables with odd bits of junk, a practice he refers to as trading.
Tonto’s worst trade was one he made as a boy, which has an elaborate backstory involving two conniving white men, a river full of silver, a heavy-chained pocket watch and that crow.
All this might seem enough plot for a decent Western action/comedy. But then Verbinski & Co. pile on layer after layer of material, junking up the works.
There’s a paltry romantic triangle between Dan and John, with Dan’s wife (Ruth Wilson) and young son (Bryan Prince) caught in the crossfire. Tom Wilkinson shows up as the enterprising head of the railroad company connecting East to West. Barry Pepper is a preening, Custer-esque cavalryman.
Then things really get out there. Helena Bonham Carter plays a brothel madam with a past, plus an ivory leg with a shotgun hidden inside. And there are border wars with the Comanche – ostensibly Tonto’s people, though they are quick to disavow him as a loon.
And a mystical quest in search of an evil “wendingo” spirit. And a pale horse with seemingly supernatural powers. And corporate power struggles. And cannibal rabbits.
Oh, and the whole thing’s wrapped in a mournful framing device set in 1933, when a century-old Tonto, now relegated to circus sideshow, recounts his tale to a curious lad.
The absolute low point is when John and Tonto walk into a dangerous den and pull the old "we're the health inspectors" shtick, something used in every buddy cop movie, ever. Except it's 1869, when there were no such thing as health inspectors. When they complain the pickles in the bar are not refrigerated, I waited for someone to respond, "What's refrigeration?"
At a tick under 2½ hours, “The Lone Ranger” goes all in on “more is more,” until the audience wishes there was just less.
Or as Tonto might say, “Ten dollar for ticket to movie … not good trade.”