Saturday, July 6, 2013

"The Lone Ranger" (2013)

Starring Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp and Tom Wilkinson
Written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Russo
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence, sexual references
Running Time: 149 Minutes

John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a lawyer returning home to Texas to take a job as a county prosecutor. On the train there, he notices a gang of outlaws boarding the train and goes to investigate. It seems that vicious murderer Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) is aboard the train, being transported for hanging, and his gang has come to bust him out. A Comanche warrior, Tonto (Johnny Depp), is also aboard the train, planning to kill Cavendish, but Reid interferes in the name of the law. Cavendish gets away, but his men have killed the train conductor, leaving the locomotive out of control.

John's brother Dan (James Badge Dale), a Texas ranger, catches up with the the train and helps John and Tonto unhook the cars to save the other passengers as the locomotive crashes off the end of the rail line. Soon, the chase is on to find Cavendish. John is deputized as a ranger, and heads into the desert with Dan and his posse to find Cavendish, leaving Dan's wife (and John's former love) Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) and her young son behind.

But the mission ends in tragedy when one of Dan's men betrays the rangers, leaving them for an ambush that kills them all. Tonto discovers that a spirit horse has revived John, whom Tonto calls "a spirit walker" to help him on his quest for vengeance against Cavendish. As the two track the outlaws, they find themselves in a vast conspiracy aimed at igniting a war between the remains of the Comanche nation and the United States as the railroad expands westward.

...or something. For a movie so concerned with trains, I'm gonna come right out and use this awful pun.

This movie is a train wreck.

At 149 minutes, it's about 40 minutes too long. It feels like a slog to get through, with long, painfully long, segments that feel entirely pointless or boring. The movie spends entirely too much time trying to straddle a line between goofy and serious with a bit of weird, unexplained mysticism that feels totally out of place. There are so many concepts crammed into the script that the entire movie ends up like a big jumble, leaving the viewer to go, "...huh?"

This overt goofiness is where the movie most often gets into trouble. We're asked to care some for the traumatic event in Tonto's past that the entire film revolves around, yet Tonto himself is such a clown that this becomes almost impossible. Depp spends much of the film's bloated runtime mugging for the camera, often playing frightened or surprised at the things that go on around him... yet he also often displays a sort of calm as though "of course I just used a ladder to spin between two speeding, out of control trains." Tonto, as a character, is all over the place.

Even worse, the film has an entirely needless framing story of Tonto as an old man telling this entire story (sometimes out of order for comedic effect, and sometimes out of order for no reason I can tell other than Tonto is mildly insane). In these strange scenes, Depp's performance is even more oddball, to the point of just being plain bad. For the rest of the movie, it more often feels like Depp just doing his best "stereotypical Indian" impression at a party. Sometimes he's capable of forming normal sentences, sometimes he just has that stilted sentence fragment way of talking.

Sometimes, Tonto's antics are funny. Most often, they're groan-worthy, and not in that good way. I enjoyed "White House Down" because it was goofy and dumb, but in a way that was much, much more fun than anything "The Lone Ranger" has to offer.

Armie Hammer does fine enough. He's got potential to be a leading man, except in a movie called "The Lone Ranger," the Lone Ranger is almost like a supporting character in his own flick. The focus here is on Tonto; he drives everything, and the movie spends more time watching what he's doing in the action than John Reid. Reid himself feels like he's just dragging Tonto down, and this whole thing would be solved much quicker if he wasn't in the movie. But he's the Lone Ranger, so he gets the love interest and all the accolades at the end when he saves the day or whatever. Hammer doesn't have much to do except act surprised that he manages to survive every single one of the film's action sequences.

The rest of the cast are all solid and do okay with what they're given. Ruth Wilson is a decent damsel in distress, even if the film tries to pretend like she's stronger than that. The film tries hard to make it seem like she's a love interest, except that the script just doesn't give us a character that supports that idea. So while she gets to kiss the hero, it feels as pointless as much of the rest of the film. We have to be told that she loves him. Okay.

William Fichtner does a great job as the villainous Cavendish, except one of the movie's other problems is that it has no clue what to do with him. Fichtner has a lot of fun being mean and snarling through his makeup that includes a hideous facial scar. But one of the film's weird concepts is that Cavendish, for some reason that is never explained, eats the hearts of his enemies! It's a totally vicious, downright dark thing for a man to do in a movie that is so goofy and light. Cavendish is at the heart of many of the film's wild tonal shifts that make the whole thing so awkward.

But ultimately, it's just the fact that this movie is so long and so boring that kills it. The plot is serviceable, though not spectacularly original in any fashion. The scenery is gorgeous, the costumes and makeup well done. Even the film's massive amount of CGI effects look reasonably good (only rarely do things look too obviously cartoonish). But a two and a half hour film that feels like twice that simply isn't good.

The climax of the film, a bizarre and overblown dual-train chase sequence, is the most fun "The Lone Ranger" has to offer. This is likely because it's the sequence in the film that presents that familiar "Lone Ranger" theme music, the William Tell Overture and when John Reid finally does more than scream and get knocked out and win accidentally. It's a fun, rousing few minutes... but that's the problem. It's ten minutes out of 149. Too little, too late.

Fun Fact: The Lone Ranger is the great uncle of the Green Hornet. Maybe someday, someone will make better movies out of both.

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