Wednesday, July 10, 2013


The reviews are pretty awful, and the box office is tanking. But, seriously, can The Lone Ranger really be that bad? Well, there's nothing wrong with this movie that couldn't be fixed by cutting out about 45 minutes and hiring new scriptwriters who know how to set and maintain a consistent tone, tell a coherent story, and develop characters we care about.

That leaves out Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, the main culprits here, along with director and fellow PotC alumnus Gore Verbinski; together with third credited screenwriter Justin Haythe, they prove they ought to be making amusement park rides, not movies.

Armie Hammer (he played both Winklevoss twins in The Social Network) stars as the deputy Texas Ranger turned masked avenger for justice, but he's stuck playing a dull-witted, square-jawed, prig. There is no there there. Resurrected from the brink of death after an ambush, he's still a stiff; his only heroic attribute is an (undeserved) reputation for not staying dead.

It's Johnny Depp who gets the plum role of wily "sidekick," Tonto; he's the most consistent thing in the movie, and there's pleasure to be had if you tune out all the sturm and bluster in the overcooked plot about ruthless railroad men vs. vicious outlaws vs. noble Indians and view his performance as an extended homage to the deadpan physical slapstick of silent comedians Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

But these two "heroes" have no chemistry or camaraderie; the characters dislike and mistrust each other, falling into pathetic bickering at the most inappropriate moments. The non-stop jokiness is also a big problem, especially when the movie tries to shift gears and address the spirituality and suffering of Native American peoples at the hands of the white man. A couple of times we are asked to ponder the sobering aftermath of a massacre, then up pops Depp to crack another joke so the audience can start laughing again.

Comedy and tragedy coexist in life, of course, but can only be combined onscreen by writers who know what they're doing. Here the juxtaposition is not well integrated, so the movie doesn't feel more resonant, it's just schizoid. The big action finale featuring three runaway trains on split-level, intersecting tracks is a marvel of stunt choreography, but like everything else, it goes on forever. This isn't a thrill ride, it's an endurance test.

Btw, much virtual ink has been spilled over Tonto's dead crow headdress, including on this blog. Depp claims he was inspired by this painting, I Am Crow, by contemporary southwest artist Kirby Sattler, from which Depp also evidently borrowed make-up tips.

I don't know how authentic this painting is supposed to be, or whether the crow is metaphor, or if the image is meant to represent a man of the Crow nation. (In the movie, Tonto is supposed to be Comanche.) But Depp has said in interviews that he got into the idea that a native warrior might wear his totem animal spirit guide on his person, and that actually is fine with me. (In fact, the crow becomes a character in the story, in flashbacks.) It's just too bad the rest of the movie lacks the wit, purpose, and spiritual depth of that dead crow.

PS: And don't even get me started on the rabid bunnies....

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