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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 5, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 27
Ranger danger - Disney's Lone Ranger reinvention is big-budget disaster
Arts & Entertainment
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Ranger danger - Disney's Lone Ranger reinvention is big-budget disaster

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE LONE RANGER
Now showing


It's hard to come up with a film that's more of a tonal misfire than director Gore Verbinski's attempted reinvention of Western favorite The Lone Ranger. A television icon immortalized by Clayton Moore in the 1950s and a staple of countless comic strips, cartoons, and a handful of books, the movie, reuniting the core creative team behind The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (including writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and star Johnny Depp), has no idea what it wants to be and what sort of audience it has been engineered for. Too violent for kids, too stupid for adults, too plodding and, putting it plainly, too boring for just about everyone else, the movie is a megabudget calamity (a reported $200-plus million, excluding marketing) that I'm not sure anyone, anywhere could possibly come close to enjoying.

The basic scenario hasn't changed all that much. After an ambush leaves the rest of his posse - including his older brother Dan (James Badge Dale) - dead, a wounded John Reid (Armie Hammer) rises from the grave thanks to the assistance of wise native warrior Tonto (Depp). Choosing to keep his identity hidden to protect those he loves as well as ferret out the evildoers who did him wrong, this Texas Ranger wears a mask and is subsequently renamed The Lone Ranger, a dedicated fighter for law and justice.

GUARD YOUR HEART
The changes? Here Tonto is a slightly out-of-his-gourd warrior who nonetheless understands the ways of the world and those who live in it much better than his somewhat wimpy partner. Reid is a bookish bore not exactly ready to be thrust in the middle of chaos. As for the man they're after, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) isn't just a bloodthirsty hellion, he's a bloodthirsty hellion who likes to rip the hearts out of his prey and eat them right in front of any potential survivors. Throw in a bunch of additional pointless hogwash, including Dan's widowed wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), and their easily astonished son, Danny (Bryant Prince), and it's doubtful things could get any more convoluted.

Wait. Scratch that. They can. The majority of the narrative revolves around a long-winded scheme to take over ownership of a railroad line being shepherded to completion by company man Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), using a rich vein of silver that just so happens to be hidden in the same hills and mountains Tonto's massacred people once called home. There's also a sideplot involving a thriving madam, Red Harrington (Helena Bonham Carter), but it isn't exactly of import save to make sure she's around to lend long-legged assistance during the climactic railyard showdown. Throw in the appearance of the U.S. Cavalry, led by the easily influenced Captain Fuller (Barry Pepper, in full George S. Custer drag), and there's a lot of stuff going on, all of it sort of connected even if why it is and what makes it worthy of keeping an eye on never comes into focus.

It's a muddled mess - some bits are played with an eye for comedy while others are treated with a ferocious sincerity that make you feel you are watching an entirely different movie. There are times when the filmmakers give crystal clarity to the brutality of the period, Verbinski pulling no punches where it comes to the Cavalry's decimation of native tribes. But many of these sequences are juxtaposed against Tonto and Reid acting like total fools, running from massive fireballs or acting as if they just stepped onto the set of some Buster Keaton-style silent comedy while scenes of countless hundreds being slowly massacred plays solemnly next to their cartoonish antics.

VISUAL SPLENDOR
You can tell money has been spent, that goes without saying. Penny Rose's (Unstoppable) costumes are suitably lavish, as is Jess Gonchor's (True Grit) impressively lived-in and grittily authentic production design. The art direction and set direction are equally stunning, and from a technical standpoint one must step back and admit this version of The Lone Ranger looks pretty darn impressive. Additionally, the CG employed during the climax - old-school locomotives running with unabated abandon while Reid, Tonto, and a whole slew of villains run roughshod over, through, and under them - is fairly incredible, and while not entirely photorealistic it must be stated the film at times does come astonishingly close to being so. Even the William Tell Overture makes a welcome appearance, its insertion making my inner six-year-old stand up and cheer (if only, sadly, for a second or two).

But so what? The characters are consistently one-dimensional and unappealing, and the framing device used to tell the story feels like nothing more than an excuse to let Depp showcase his flair for physical comedy, while the plot itself is so padded the filler used to stuff it out to its abhorrent 149-minute length ends up being more substantive than any of the important bits. Verbinski and his team have taken this treasured, still-vibrant character and transformed both him and his compatriot into shells of what they could have, probably should have, been. This incarnation of The Lone Ranger is so misbegotten it makes one long for the days of Klinton Spilsbury, and if you understand that reference than you fully comprehend just how gigantic a disaster this failed reinvention truly is.

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