Monday, January 6, 2014

"The Lone Ranger" Plays Better Than Expected

The Lone Ranger is a gorgeously shot film and Johnny Depp's
shtick doesn't grate like one might think it would by this point. 
The Lone Ranger was ravaged by critics last summer, but it’s really not all that terrible. It’s pretty clich√© and about a half-hour too long, but it has an enjoyably off-kilter personality and is book-ended by two dynamite train sequences.

Like the Will Smith vehicle Wild Wild West, the film is a tonally confused blockbuster update of an irrelevant Western brand that turned into a box-office laughingstock. But unlike that film, it doesn't deserve such scathing critical derision.

Actually, The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is really a better comparison point. Not only is The Lone Ranger from the same studio (Disney), director (Gore Verbinski) and star (Johnny Depp), but it also follows the same narrative template.

As in those films, the focus here is on an upright hero in the classic mold (Armie Hammer subbing in for Orlando Bloom) joining forces with a kooky outsider type (Depp as a loopy Indian instead of a drunken pirate) to take down some bad guys. Even more specifically, it’s another mismatched buddy actioner in which a straight man driven by duty and love is corrupted for the better by a seemingly clueless weirdo who is actually a cunning, revenge-seeking superman.

Although clearly modeled after it, The Lone Ranger doesn't come close to capturing the magic or cohesiveness of the first Pirates film, but it does have the screwy charm, snappy direction and inventive action set-pieces that made the second one such a guilty pleasure.
With such concentration on trains, I suspect Big Thunder
Mountain Railroad at Disney amusement parks would've
been altered if the film had been a hit. Alas, it won't be.
Verbinski has a real knack for action and clear love for the Western genre, and that’s abundantly evident in the way he stages the bonkers train sequences and frames the gorgeous landscape. However, he has developed a tendency to over-stuff his movies to a bloated extent, and 149 minutes is just too long for a film like this. The movie would play a lot better without the unnecessary and intrusive framing device, and nothing would've been lost by cutting Helena Bonham Carter’s legless madame from the film.

The tone is questionable for a family film with the Disney label. At times the thing is a cute slapsticky riff, and at other times it digresses into extreme levels of violence. This, parents should be warned, is a film containing a massive body count, including the slaughtering of nearly an entire tribe of Indians, as well as an odd and unnecessary digression into cannibalism.

Overall, The Lone Ranger isn't a good movie, but it is an entertaining one. Depp, whose iconic role as Jack Sparrow has increasingly grown tired, actually does some interesting things here and, again, the train scenes are really quite thrilling. C+