Craig's First Take: "The Lone Ranger"

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A thrilling action adventure tale in which a 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.
1.5

There’s a great story in “Lone Ranger”, not in the movie itself of course, which is just plain abysmally wrong-headed in every conceivable way, but I’m talking about during production around May of last year. Johnny Depp, who’s been nothing but gung-ho and well-meaning about depicting Native Americans in a positive light ever since this movie was announced, actually even became one totally. The part native became an honorary member of the Comanche tribe last May, adopted by LaDonna Harris, president of the Americans for Indian opportunity.

I’m fascinated with this. What did he have to do in order to prepare for this? What changes did his life take once it happened? Do they consider themselves mother and son? Does she tell him that she thought “Dark Shadows” sucked or is it too soon? Also what does she think of his Tonto, another in a long line of Depp goofball characters. He wears war-paint and a stuffed bird on his head that he tries to feed and talk to, and much like Jack Sparrow, seems to walk around with the same brain-fried sunstroke that makes him do all kinds of oddball things.

Only where Sparrow started out somewhat uniquely, Tonto is horribly insufferable, the least of the many reasons why is that he seems to be constantly working against Armie Hammer, the guy who he’s supposed to have some sort of buddy chemistry with. While Depp does this oddball minstrel show, Hammer’s District Attorney John Reid is doing much, much less, playing it like some wimpy, straitlaced piece of wood. As comic duo, they’re entirely off. And as heroes, they’re about as rootable as toe fungus. Both are thrown together after the escape of dangerous outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner, doing what he can with a role that basically just requires him to be sneering, mangy, and dirty). Both guys have a score to settle with the outlaw and after the spirit horses, spirit walkers, and all the other spirits have had their say, Reid emerges as a masked vigilante returned from the dead for vengeance.

In what is a relatively simple story, it’s beyond imaginable how director Gore Verbinski or his writers could think this deserves a 2 and a half hour running time. We see so many shots of open plains and guys riding on horseback, Tonto is given a backstory that fosters a distrust of whites (more on this in a second), the Comanche are soon wrongly called enemies of the railroad and a war is brewing. This could easily have been wrapped up in under two hours but there are so many shoot-outs and runaway train sequences and damsels in distress that begin fine but soon blur into a monotonous nightmare of old western clichés. But still it’s better than what accounts for the rest of the plot, which is about as dry and boring as it gets. Didn’t these guys know they were trying to get the attention of a younger audience? Damn, I’m 31 and even I kept hoping that at least Depp and Verbinski’s “Rango” would make an appearance just to liven this thing up. The best example of what this thing calls comedy: a horse takes a crap and then an unconscious character is then dragged through it.

Worst of all is its representation of Indians. They’re presence during this time is whitewashed, most likely cause Disney didn’t want to deal with any fall-out ala “Pocahantas”, and mostly the opinion of most whites toward them during this time is whitewashed as well. I can forgive that. Harder to forgive is a shameful and pointless gunning down of Indians in a sequence that is neither thrilling or workable dramatically, before its senselessly forgotten about for one last “fun” runaway train ride with Depp and Hammer.

What else? Tonto is telling us this story as an old man who lives in a museum, a fact that accompanied by his oddball shtick makes him seem like he has dementia (always a fun way to start out a summer blockbuster). Helena Bonham Carter shows up as a Saloon Madam although perhaps luckily for her she barely has much screen time. Character actors like Tom Wilkinson and Stephen Root do what they can, and I’ll give the movie one thing for credit, unlike the show “Hell on Wheels”, this movie at least acknowledges that Asians had a hand in building the railroad. But can you tell I’m digging deep for compliments here? “Lone Ranger” is a disaster of mammoth proportions, a near shoo-in to be towards the top of most people’s worst lists at the end of the year. Supposedly Hammer and Depp have already signed on to do more of these things. All I can say is “Spirit guides, please save us.”