THE LONE RANGER
Author: JoAnne Hyde
July 3, 2013

SYNOPSIS: From producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, the filmmaking team behind the blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, comes Disney/ Jerry Bruckheimer Films' "The Lone Ranger," a thrilling adventure infused with action and humor, in which the famed masked hero is brought to life through new eyes. Native American spirit warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice-taking the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption.

What’s up, Disney? Come on! Whatever happened to the fine, family films you used to produce? Now, it seems, we get trendy, kitschy, characters speaking in 21st century slang even though they supposedly live in the 19th century. For The Lone Ranger, in particular, you have to throw in some truly disturbing elements, too? Also, mess with the Lone Ranger legend at your own risk! This film represents more of a sideshow version of that legend, and, indeed, it does begin in a carnival sideshow.

Johnny Depp, who plays Tonto, is also a producer of the film which might explain why he got top billing. Tonto becomes the main character in this version of the story – sort of. Depp plays the character a bit like a Capt. Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean in the Old West. He dresses in an eccentric manner, differently from any other Indian in the film, and instead of appearing perpetually drunk, he’s a bit soft in the head instead. In the original series and the few films that followed, Tonto had dignity, dressed normally for a Native American of that time, and said little – but what he did say was weighty, not silly. The film begins in 1933, in a carnival sideshow titled The Wild West, where a young fan of the radio series, played by Mason Elston Cook, encounters the actual, but very, very old Tonto in one of the dioramas. Tonto then begins to tell the youngster the “truth” about the legendary masked man. The “truth” gets revised several times, and it’s up to the viewer to decide whether or not Tonto is real. This technique, obviously, frames the story in flashback.

Flashback to Texas in 1879 when the adventure presumably began. The film was actually shot anywhere but Texas – in New Mexico, California, Utah, and Colorado. The scenery is magnificent, but it also hurts the credibility of the story because it meanders back and forth between the completely flat prairie town and the majestic peaks, mesas, and cliffs of the aforementioned states without so much as a foothill. The town mogul, Cole (Tom Wilkinson), has connived with the railroad barons of the East to bring the transcontinental railroad to junction in his town. You know, Manifest Destiny and all that sort of thing. The town is as crime-ridden and corrupt as any Old West railroad or mining town ever was, but it’s kept in check by Sheriff Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) who’s as straight-arrow as they come. He’s fearless, strong, and a friend to the Comanche whose land is slowly being stolen by the bad, bad railroad folks. Turns out that there’s also the ulterior motive of big money since the Comanche land is rich in silver.

The review continues after the jump!

The very railroad that’s causing all this trouble for the Comanches, brings Sheriff Dan’s younger brother, John Reid (Armie Hammer), back to town as the newly-appointed prosecutor even though there’s not a courtroom in sight. Armie Hammer is a big, good-looking guy who may or may not have potential as a serious actor. It’s impossible to make a judgment based on the silly character he’s forced to play. He’s overly self-righteous and smug – driven by the reason of John Locke. He’s secretly in love with his brother’s wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), and when he’s not making puppy-dog eyes at her and attempting to bond with his nephew Danny ( Bryant Prince), he’s spouting naïve nonsense about bringing all the bad guys in to be tried by a jury of their peers. He’s against violence and so vocal about it that the other characters practically roll their eyes when he speaks. His character is so truly annoying for ¾ of the film that I wanted to shoot him myself!

The bad guys are SO bad and SO ugly that they seem more like caricatures than human beings. Speaking of human beings, now might be a good time to mention a couple of the disturbing elements included for no apparent reason: cannibalism and cross-dressing. Neither advances the plot nor adds anything to the story. Shock value is all I can come up with, but really – do kids need to see this sort of thing? Does anyone?

The worst of the baddies, and the ugliest, is Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). This fellow has no redeeming qualities, but I suppose he’s a successful villain because you just can’t wait for him to die a horrible death. But will he? John Reid, transformed into the masked Lone Ranger by Tonto, is such a bumbler that you wonder how he even stays astride his horse. And Tonto mainly saves him by accident. However, that horse (or horses), Silver, with a little CGI help, is a marvel. His feats are worth the price of the ticket. Besides the horse, Helena Bonham Carter provides a bit of welcome entertainment as Red Harrington, the one-legged Madam of the town brothel.

Along with cannibalism and cross-dressing, there’s also a great deal of blood for a PG-13 film. Basically, The Lone Ranger is a film in search of an identity. Mostly, it plays like a spoof, but then, at times it seems to want to be taken seriously – as an action-packed Western or as a political statement about the white man’s treatment of the Native Americans. Trying to decide what to think of it felt like emotional whip-lash. Young teens and tweens in the preview audience seemed entertained and applauded at the end, but that felt manipulated, too, since the stirring William Tell Overture (the Lone Ranger’s theme song) came blasting from the screen. In the end, it seems like an overwrought ado about nothing. - J.A. Hyde

GRADE: D


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