Movie Review: The Lone Ranger- A Schizoprenically Toned Continuation of the Pirates Franchise Template that Results in Messy Chaos and an Overall Charmless Experience

tonto-theloneranger-cliffsNot many characters are as recognizable in designated look, familiar western setting, and even theme music as the “Lone Ranger” who started out his adventures on a campy yet endearing radio serial in 1933, with 2,956 episodes spanning over 21 years, and even continued on to an equally charming television run of eight years that can also be described as entertaining camp. Unfortunately one of those chosen words, specifically entertaining, can’t be used to describe Gore Verbinski’s latest interpretation of the iconic character that ends up being a tonally schizophrenic and exhaustingly unexceptional trek through the terrain of mediocrity. In the attempt to modernize the story there just feels to be an odd sense of denial as to what the character was and what it needs to be for any screen interpretation leading to an often times disrespectful and entirely mixed presentation from the very beginning to the tiresome end. The trouble with The Lone Ranger is that it has the stench of hubris coupled with blatant historic revisionism packed into a disastrously bland story that inevitably never embodies any of its desired influences, including the western and the brainless action summer blockbuster. No amount of eccentric jokiness, passionless homage to previous westerns, or Johnny Depp were able to save this lazy continuation of the Pirates of the Caribbean formula which has brought everything along including the overly lighthearted tone, the strange characters, and the bloated stunts and yet has refused to keep that initial sense of fun that made the first Pirates so guiltily entertaining. The claim from producer Jerry Bruckheimer that he would introduce the character in “a fresh and exciting way” becomes the best delivered joke of the existing film because there is absolutely nothing exciting or even fresh about Gore Verbinski’s insanely expensive ($250 million), inconsistently toned, uncomfortably long, and implausibly messy Lone Ranger. When the best possible comparison to your lighthearted western can only be Barry Sonenfeld’s Wild Wild West then you know the Lone Ranger has taken the more-is-better philosophy on action and inevitably becomes too loud, too tedious, and too pointless. The crux of the issue with Verbinski’s chaotic tiptoeing around what is deemed a sacred cow, an interpretation that doesn’t enter parody nor does it accept the subtlety of homage, is that he has delivered a neutered protagonist in a story where the stakes are never felt which gives us exactly what the “Lone Ranger” was not, charmless and unadventurous.

It’s surprising that the Lone Ranger wasn’t simply titled Pirates of the Caribbean: On Land because it doesn’t seem there is anything creatively different about the two series (calling the DOA Lone Ranger a potential franchise would be erroneous) either in tone, style, or narrative template. There’s nothing wrong with following a successful trend but the philosophy here seems to be that lightning strikes in the same place twice and it’s clear there is laziness all around creatively especially in the writing from screenwriter Justin Haythe joined by the equally unambitious writing team of Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio both of whom wrote all four Pirates films. Haythe’s background in dramatic storytelling with the likes of Revolutionary Road and The Clearing obviously clashes with Elliot and Rossio’s penchant for jokey toned ridiculousness in the Pirates franchise which for the Lone Ranger means it has a drastically inconsistent tone throughout the film sporadically leaping from unwelcome, overly violent scenes that includes a villain who rips out the hearts of his victims and eats them to timidly written humorous sequences that seem desperate more than fun. As a western The Lone Ranger follows the genre’s more cliché and drastic ally overdone elements that includes typical railroad greed, presumed Native American violence, and the themes of justice vs. injustice to an almost laughably predictable level almost teetering on the edge of parodying the noble and admirable genre. The entire narrative structure is built on poorly conceived and often times horribly delivered plot device of the character Tonto (Johnny Depp) retelling his tales with the “Lone Ranger” to a young boy in San Francisco in the year 1933. What’s retold is an origin story of the most unlikeable choice for our hero with the inept and incompetent District Attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer), who has an arrival reminiscent of John Ford’s Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, which inevitably leads to him becoming the iconic symbol of justice as he follows the lead of the real protagonist Tonto. Unfortunately the duo battle villains who are never reluctant to shoot anything or stab anything that moves until they have their heroes dead in their sights giving the film a devoid sense of risk where the protagonists are invincible and our direct care is non-existent. This creative team has only focused on one successful aspect of the entire Pirates franchise and that’s the presence of Johnny Depp which means they have refused to create dynamic characters with purpose or a plot that’s either fun or engaging on the most basic of levels leaving us only with a neutered protagonist and an often times overused gimmicky sidekick in a world without any palpable stakes making the Lone Ranger dismally charmless and narratively dull.

THE LONE RANGER

It’s truly unfortunate that after Verbinski’s western success with the animated film Rango, both in successfully paying tribute to its influences and creating an original story with phenomenal screenwriter John Logan’s aid, that the Lone Ranger didn’t even come close to following suit in either successful western homage or even generic action summer blockbuster. Everything seems preordained, predictable, and built for an expected display of tiresome stunts and special effects infused action without any thoughtful consideration on whether any of it makes sense thematically or whether it makes sense for the characters. The uneven script doesn’t allow for a suitable consistency of tone but it’s also Verbinski’s direction that seems completely uneven and often times lost in the gimmickry of Depp’s performance or the vastness of the iconic Monument Valley that’s a tad allegorical to the emptiness of the script. Occasionally Verbinski throws in his film school sensibilities in paying tribute to Westerns of yore such as Once Upon a Time in the West, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, and Shane but these are brief moments of genre sincerity in the midst of a film that’s a mess narratively and visually. The one fitting tribute that needed to be emphasized throughout the entire film was one of the original “Lone Ranger” of the famed radio serial or even television show and yet the only existing sense is one of disrespectful mockery and blasé ambivalence where even the William Tell Overture seems either overused or misplaced. Pacing is another debilitating issue for the entire Lone Ranger film as it moves at a dead horse’s pace on most occasions and occasionally picks up in a frenzied state of catching up that mostly occurs in the last quarter of the film that’s bearable but comes too late in the messy and inconsistent film. Verbinski follows his bi-polar screenwriters foundation and delivers an equally uneven western that barely makes a passing grade for even mindless entertainment since it regurgitates a great deal of the formula from the previous Pirates films but in a far less interesting and fun manner. When the script’s basics are strained for coherency and the visual tapestry is an equal mess it’s left to the actors to keep pumping life into a lifeless brand product but unfortunately even the performances aren’t passable or consistent making the overly long and awkwardly violent Lone Ranger a hardened endurance test.

A dangerous dynamic that can sink a film, television show, or any other entertainment medium is placing focus on one of the supporting leads instead of the actual intended protagonist hero, which is what occurs in the Lone Ranger in relation to Tonto and the masked icon. In a poor attempt at overcompensating for the disproportionate focus on the “Lone Ranger” over Tonto in the radio serials and television show it seems the screenwriters and Gore Verbinski have gone out of their way to create a more bumbling, naïve, and incompetent protagonist in Armie Hammer’s “Lone Ranger” to fix the two character dynamics. Because of this unfortunate decision Hammer not only shows his weaknesses as a charming lead due to an inept script that tones him down but it also seeps into the entire film’s structure making the hero rather uncourageous. Instead we have a vengeance seeking protagonist in Johnny Depp’s expressionless Tonto who proves that overacting isn’t dependent on an exaggeration of expression. Caked on makeup and a Buster Keaton-like calmness doesn’t make a unique character because backstory and development makes for a good character and unfortunately Tonto lacks both. It’s interesting that the “Lone Ranger’s” appeal was sort of simplistic when it ignited in the early part of the 20th Century but in order to complicate things the screenwriters and director have obscured the simplistic intent and have utterly lost the charm through absent minded and bland modernization. All the other actors are either wasted through overacting or uninteresting scenarios where an unrecognizable William Fichtner seems out of place as the villain in the decided tone of the script and talents like Tom Wilkinson are subdued with insipid characterization. Of course blockbusters aren’t intended for unique characters or in depth development but there isn’t even a proud sense of unashamed fun here because the tone between characters, actions, and scenarios never mesh well with each other where violence dilutes the humor and the poorly written humor dilutes the admirable intentions of the project. For those looking for an undeniably charming and unique performance from Johnny Depp will most certainly be disappointed for he stopped acting several years ago and Lone Ranger is another poor example of how that’s coming more and more true through each and every new release.

theloneranger

The Lone Ranger was advertised as a creative inspiration from the minds that brought you the increasingly ridiculous but guiltily pleasurable franchise known as the Pirates of the Caribbean and on that front it truly disappoints. There is no sense of fun or amusement in this odd adaptation of the famed iconic character because the desire to modernize his gimmick has resulted in a bi-polar script where tones clash, characters are lost, and the entire intention for entertainment gets obscured by historic revisionism and taken for granted filmmaking hubris. Any attempt at inserting western homage or references to the “Lone Ranger” serial or television show are poorly done and often times reek of either desperation or insulting mockery making it difficult to understand whether this is a confident reimagining or a satirical interpretation of the original character. Because of the unevenness of the direction guided by an even more uneven script the performances suffer mostly because there’s absolutely zero development, motivation, or heroic qualities in both the real protagonist Tonto or “The Lone Ranger” making the film devoid of charm or purpose. The Lone Ranger has fallen into the typical summer blockbuster trap where the belief that more special effects, the more quirkiness, and the more physics defying action will create a success but this incredibly expensive and dismally entertaining take on the icon won’t result well because it doesn’t have the chemistry or shamelessness to create franchise longevity. Though the final 20 or so minutes of this overly long film might be worth experiencing it isn’t worth the ticket price and should be awaited in the comfort of your home where turning it off is at least another option.

Grade: D+

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