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THE LONE RANGER (2013) – The Review

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The Summer is at the halfway mark so it’s time for another all-media icon to storm (or in this case, gallop) into the multiplexes. “An all-media icon ?”, you may ask. Well that’s a character or series that premiered in one media outlet and then became a hit in all the other outlets. The case could be made for the Enterprise crew of “Star Trek”, although they arrived after the end of dramatic series radio (but they inspired a whole lot of internet content). The second installment of the reboot from JJ Abrams, STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS, was a box office hit in May (and is still on the B.O. top ten list). But there’s no argument that the all-media crown can be bestowed on Superman, subject of the big June release MAN OF STEEL. The character ,who was introduced in comic books, “Action Comics” #1 back in 1938 (yup, 75 years!), has made a name in every media outlet: newspaper comic strips first then radio drama, animated shorts, live-action movie serials, toys, live-action TV shows, animated TV shows, a Broadway musical, and several live-action feature films. It turns out the new arrival has a five-year jump on ole’ Supes and sprung first from a different outlet. “The daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains”, the Lone Ranger debuted on radio station WXYZ out of Detroit back in 1933. Like Superman, the Ranger’s starred in several features, but has not shared the same box office fate. The last effort, 1981’s THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER, is one of Hollywood’s most notorious flops. Now the folks at the Disney Studios are ready for their take, specifically the team that turned a Disney park ride into a series of box office bonanza (or as those “Pirates of the Caribbean” would say, “booty!”). Can they make the Ranger and Tonto appeals to kids of today just like their parents and grandparents did back in “those thrilling days of yesteryear”? Hi-yo, let’s go!

After a brief flash forward we’re dropped into a dusty, small town in Texas circa 1869. It’s all about the railroads as workers hurry to complete the track to connect the East and West. And a powerful railroad man named Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) runs this sleepy little burg. At the station several Texas Rangers headed by Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) await the train carrying the vicious captured outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) along with another prisoner, the nomadic Comanche Tonto (Johnny Depp). Oh, one of the passengers on the train is Dan’s brother John (Armie Hammer), who will be the town’s new district attorney. Did I mention that John is the former beau of Dan’s wife and mother of his young son Danny, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson)? Before Butch is turned over to the Rangers the Cavendish gang takes him off the train and wrecks the massive locomotive, luckily after a chained John and Tonto disengage the passenger cars from the engine. Later Dan deputizes John so he can join the Rangers in their quest for the gang. The trail scout, a childhood friend of the Reids, leads them into an ambush at the bottom of a desolate canyon. Butch and his men easily pick off the doomed seven. Much later Tonto discovers the bodies and prepares them for burial. But a wild white stallion which Tonto calls a “spirit horse” paws at John’s grave. He’s alive! After he’s healed, John is trained by Tonto who proposes that they fill in all seven graves so that the gang will believe there were no survivors. Using a mask made from his dead brother’s vest, John assumes a new identity: the Lone Ranger. The men ride together to track down Cavendish and his gang and in the process uncover a vast conspiracy that threatens the future of the West.

Though the film is titled THE LONE RANGER, the main focus is Tonto appropriately played by its biggest star draw, Depp. He basically tells the story via a clunky framing sequence and dominates the scenes particularly when John’s resting up after the big ambush. Although he’s playing a Native American, Depp tackles the role with all the usual “Depp-isms” we’ve come to know after the “Pirates” flicks and the recent Burton collaborations. You get the wide eyes, double takes, and physical ticks and schticks. Tonto’s speech pattern is a lower. less drunk and swishy variation on Captain Sparrow. We only get a bit of the melancholy of the character after we see a flashback of his tragic past. Depp completely overshadows Hammer who’s a pompous stiff in his opening scenes (how did Rebecca ever fall for him?). After the healing , Hammer almost does a riff on Don Knotts or Joe Besser as he panics over everything (you almost expect a comic strip word balloon saying “EEK!!” to pop up over his head) he encounters. By the time he’s acting more heroic, Hammer still seems uncomfortable in the whole masked cowboy regalia. Fichtner does a parody of the slimy, vile “spaghetti Western” villain with his carved mouth that struggles to smile as he menacingly leers at Rebecca. Wilkenson overplays his hand early as he devotes too much time to Rebecca and young Danny and reveals too much. Wilson has a lovely screen presence, but has little to do other than being a damsel in need of a rescue. The old romance between her and the Ranger is dismissed quickly. Helena Bonham Carter attempts to liven things up with her Mae West-like madame named Red, but her character seems like a leftover from the last pirate flick. None of the actors will collect any accolades for this movie, but hopefully they were well paid for getting to ride about the desert playing “cowboy’ for a few months. I’m sure they had more fun than the viewers.

And fun is the element that’s sorely lacking in this new interpretation. It’s not as dreary and dour as MAN OF STEEL, but there are several sequences that should upset the youngest moviegoers (maybe those under eight). I’m speaking of the brutal, shocking canyon ambush, its aftermath (Cavendish enjoys, um, snacking on his conquests…ewwww!!), and a nocturnal encounter with desert wildlife (forget NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, these are some CGI horrific hares!). Now the film is not as humorless as STEEL which is a problem also. The plot is slowed down for one after the other of Depp’s quirky comic bits that don’t pay off (Tonto is leery of cats so he wears a birdcage! Hysterical!) or when he and Hammer bicker like a Dinner theatre production of “The Odd Couple”. Oh and we get comic bits with Silver who starts to resemble a silent Mr. Ed (and did we really need to see the Ranger’s head dragged through Silver’s pipin’ fresh, er, droppings?)! When the clunky framing device isn’t taking us out of the plot, the film makers are killing time between the busy action set pieces that seem leftover from director Gore Verbinski game plan from his Pirates trilogy, particularly in the scene at Red’s Circus (somehow these Caribbean wenches landed in the desert). The pace is so deadly slow that even the rousing Ranger theme (“The William Tell Overture”) that begins the final showdown  can’t rouse us from the movie’s induced stupor (most of the music score consists of endless riffs on Morricone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST tracks over many, many shots of Monument Valley which were better used in the films of John Ford). Said showdown is mostly a messy mix of impossible stunts (he fell 20 feet on to a bed of rocks and isn’t hurt or fazed?!) and locomotive destruction (what is this, a Gomez Addams fever dream?). Well, at least the Ranger’s behavior stays fairly true to the character, which is a whole lot more than I can say for you Supes! The locations and sets are striking, but it’s not enough to breathe new life into this classic tale. Unlike its hero, THE LONE RANGER movie of 2013 misfires, wasting several silver bullets and over two and a half hours of our viewing time. You’re still my favorite cowboy character, so better luck next time because your legacy deserves better than this, kemosabe!

2 Out of 5

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Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

3 Comments

  1. molly

    July 28, 2013 at 11:35 am

    I think people who review movies are the most jaded, pompous, self entitled asses on the planet..this movie was great and Depp delivered as expected. I have found over the many years of reading reviews, that those who can do and those who can’t criticize.

  2. Linda Dodd

    August 2, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Molly, you are SO RIGHT!!!!! I agree with every word you said.

  3. Jim

    August 10, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Well Molly (and I suppose Linda), I don’t understand why you would take the time to read reviews if you have such a low opinion of reviewers. Do you enjoy being angry? Perhaps you’re a rage-aholic. Film makers do not make films just to be seen by other film makers. Like other artists their works are for everyone, and everyone can express their reactions to them. The real tragedy of this film is the fact that the Lone Ranger and Tonto characters are now poison to the studios and no one will be able to make a film about them that we may all embrace for many, many years.

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