Friday, January 31, 2014

Short Cut Movie Review: The Lone Ranger

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

Not nearly as bad as I was expecting (not to be mistaken for an endorsement) was Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger. I was expecting Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End levels of awfulness, but it rose to the middling heights of The Curse of the Black Pearl. It does most of what you’d expect from an update of a classic TV and radio show beloved by the Boomers. It throws in lots of big action set pieces, impossible stunts, a poop joke, and a lame attempt at making it seem less exploitative of American Indians, but as long as it’s got Johnny Depp running around in a ridiculous getup and makeup acting all Looney Toons, it’s sort of undermining itself.

There are several things the movie does very well. First is casting. As tired as I am of Depp’s “look how weird I am” shtick, he’s really amusing as Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s trusty sidekick. As the hero himself there’s all-American poster boy Armie Hammer, with his bright eyes and sturdy jaw, his perfect elocution and steady countenance. Tom Wilkinson is a solid choice as a railroad tycoon who’s obviously more troubling than he lets on and William Fichtner just eats up his role as Butch Cavendish, the villain – a nasty, filthy, crooked-toothed, human flesh-eating cretin whose vileness is the stuff of classic storytelling. Helena Bonham Carter also appears as the madam in a house of ill repute and Ruth Wilson plays Rebecca – once the Lone Ranger’s girl, but now married to his brother (played by James Badge Dale), whose death prompts his turn toward masked heroism. The film is also replete with some very convincing effects and rollicking action sequences. I must admit to getting a tad chilled when the William Tell Overture started playing. I didn’t even grow up with “The Lone Ranger,” but his image is iconic and that piece of music is so forcefully etched in my mind as his theme that I couldn’t help but feel some tiny glee.

However, there is plenty to criticize, not nearly as much the responsibility of screenwriters Justin Haythe, Terry Rossio, and Ted Elliott as I would have expected. Some of the stunts in the action sequences make no physical sense whatsoever. I’m all for the willing suspension of disbelief, but a horse riding on top of a moving train? Two rail lines running side-by-side through mountainous terrain at a time when the country was just completing its single trans-continental line? This is the result of studio producers demanding bigger, bolder, and more, more, more! It’s as if every action or adventure film has to outdo the last. I would have preferred something simpler, more grounded, hewing closer to the spirit of the TV show. This version is so callous when it comes to human life, I was amazed it was intended as light summer entertainment. The number of deaths that occur, the civilians and innocents who are laid to waste was, frankly, shocking. It was as if Verbinski was aiming for something with more weight, but failed to put his full conviction behind it. The result is a cartoon entertainment that never settles on a consistent tone or and one that would have suited the movie much better.

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