Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Guns of Summer

The Lone Ranger: written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio; based on the character created by Fran Striker; directed by Gore Verbinski; starring Johnny Depp (Tonto), Armie Hammer (John Reid/Lone Ranger), William Fichtner (Butch Cavendish), Tom Wilkinson (Latham Cole), Ruth Wilson (Rebecca Reid), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Harrington) and James Badge Dale (Dan Reid) (2013): Based on an 80-year-old character originally created for radio, The Lone Ranger was last year's much-ridiculed mega-bomb. Like another recent mega-bomb, John Carter, it came from Walt Disney Studios.

The two movies share another affinity, insofar as neither movie is really terrible -- indeed, The Lone Ranger is fairly entertaining despite its ridiculously protracted length. As well, both movies have an overly long framing story that does nothing to improve the viewing experience. But when a movie has the backing of the people who brought Disney the hugely profitable Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and is a labour of love for Johnny Depp, certain things will remain in the picture.

Per: star power, Depp's Tonto is the comic-grotesque centre of the film, the Lone Ranger (gamely played by Armie Hammer in a role that's mostly thankless until the last half-hour) a gormless, even-more-comic sidekick. William Fichtner's outlaw Butch Cavendish is a monstrous cannibal, he and his band of outlaws seeming to have sprung out of a spaghetti Western by way of a Rob Zombie movie. It's like the movie is a crossover among several different movies. Or a teleporter accident.

Unevenness of tone also does some very odd things to the narrative. One minute the movie's making grade-school poop jokes, the next it's asking us to seriously contemplate the aftermath of a massacre of Native Americans. Then it actually shows us a lengthy massacre of another group of Native Americans. Mmm, genocide! A nice light snack!

Some of the action set-pieces are spectacular, though so far divorced from the laws of physics that they exist in their own cartoon world. It's not that more successful blockbusters aren't equally divorced -- it's that The Lone Ranger seems almost giddy at times with the prospect of highlighting its own artificiality. This may be a bad thing for the box office, but it gives the action scenes a charm lacking from the usual sturm-und-drang summer explosion-fest, especially the ones in which Silver the horse repeatedly demonstrates that it's a spirit horse by running around on roofs or on the tops of speeding trains.

Thematically, the movie also moves itself out of lock-step with contemporary mores by depicting the U.S. military as genocidal boobs. Which, of course, they were during the time in question. There's no supporting the troops here -- they're in bed with corrupt governmental officials, corrupt businessmen, and cannibal outlaws. It's very much a 1970's touch. All in all, an odd, frustrating, but occasionally rewarding movie best not watched in one sitting. Lightly recommended.

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