Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

In recognition of America's Independence Day, what better film to review than a new release in that great American genre, the Western?

The Lone Ranger (2013)

The Lone Ranger is not a good movie. I'd hesitate to call it a truly bad one, but all this feels like is an attempt to recapture the lightning of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies by way of reuniting their star, Johnny Depp, their producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, and the director of the first three, Gore Verbinski. The result is a bloated and lazy blockbuster that is only barely saved by its better action sequences, its gorgeous cinematography, and its more entertaining comic scenes. Having borne witness to the near-empty house that this film played to on opening day, and knowing of its enormous budget and production difficulties, I guarantee that, coming just a year after the already-infamous bomb of John Carter, heads are going to roll at Disney when this film's numbers come in.

The problems here begin with the characters. Armie Hammer tries, but he is simply miscast as John Reid, the titular Lone Ranger. He is overshadowed throughout the film by Johnny Depp's Tonto, and the way his portrayal of Reid comes off is to make him look, for lack of a better word, wimpy. I feel that this has less to do with Hammer's acting and more to do with a script that doesn't seem to really "get" the Lone Ranger as a character. I'm far too young to have any memory of the radio show, but reading Wikipedia and this NPR story, I know that the Lone Ranger was meant to be a paragon of virtue. He loaded his gun with expensive silver bullets in order to remind himself that life is too precious to be thrown away, refused to kill when he didn't have to, and lived by a strict, progressive moral code of hard work and responsibility to others. This is the character that Hammer seemed to be trying to portray, but it's not the way that this film wanted him to act. He frequently gets into shootouts with bad guys, escapes from seemingly impossible situations, and exchanges witty banter with Tonto in the middle of big action sequences. Hammer's Reid is in keeping with the character from the radio show, but it's the wrong character for this movie, which needed an action hero... something that only highlights how much of this movie is essentially an "in name only" adaptation of the radio show.

The other characters in the film are likewise one-dimensional. Ruth Wilson as Reid's sister-in-law Rebecca, and Bryant Price as her son Danny, serve no purpose except as MacGuffins for Reid to rescue, though I did appreciate how they occasionally fought back rather than just let their fates come to them. Helena Bonham Carter as the brothel madam Red only shows up in two scenes and doesn't have any time to receive any development, her past with the film's villains only being hinted at. Speaking of villains, Tom Wilkinson's Latham Cole doesn't do much beyond being a robber baron caricature.

The fact that the people we're supposed to care about are so thinly written is practically unforgivable for a film that pushes two and a half hours, time that is instead spent engaged in "wacky" hijinks with Reid and Tonto. This is a film that desperately wants to be the next Pirates of the Caribbean, mixing an action blockbuster with smart-assed comedy, up to casting that film's star in a role very similar to the pirate jokester Jack Sparrow. Problem is, what worked in a pirate movie doesn't necessarily work in a Western. Johnny Depp's Tonto was entertaining, yes, but after perfecting Jack Sparrow over four movies, playing a nearly identical character is practically sleepwalking for him. Had this film been genuinely riffing on Western tropes the way that Pirates did for those of pirate movies, the comedy here would've worked better, but here it merely felt like a diversion from the story that slowed the whole thing down. One could say a lot of things about movies produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the man who teamed up with Michael Bay for most of his earlier hits, but one thing I thought I'd never say is "slow". Only at the beginning and the end does it get moving like a blockbuster being released over the Fourth of July weekend should.

That said, The Lone Ranger isn't wholly without redeeming factors. The cinematography here echoes John Ford Westerns of old, making phenomenal use of the famous Monument Valley and other Western locales (somehow standing in for Texas, but hey) and looking flat-out jaw-dropping. This is one film that I wish had been presented in IMAX, just so I could see how good the Wild West looked in ultra-high resolution. The opening and closing action scenes likewise had me nailed to my seat; I left the theater wondering why the rest of the film wasn't as well-paced as the last thirty minutes. Lastly, while much of the humor here felt out of place, I did admittedly laugh at a number of moments.

Score: 2 out of 5

It's an overstuffed summer blockbuster in a world that doesn't need any more of those. This Fourth of July, throw in Pirates of the Caribbean or Independence Day instead.

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