Galloping onto the big screen this week is a Western icon and a star of TV and radio who first sprung to life some 80 years ago. (Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the pleasantly uncomplicated opening of TV's The Lone Ranger).
Now, you might be asking why — in 2013 — Disney and Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2 and 3 director Gore Verbinski decided to reboot the tale of this masked cowboy. In our age of bloated blockbusters based on board games, TV classics and toy figurines, what's the point?
But wait! In the middle of this monster-sized movie — packed with runaway trains and more dynamite than a Wile E. Coyote marathon — is a movie warning us that the road to progress comes at a cost. That said, Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are so infatuated with their set-pieces — including bridges that tumble like dominoes and Rube Goldberg-inspired chase sequences — that any sense of protest is muffled by the echoing explosions.
For the clearest example of the muddle that is The Lone Ranger, simply look at John Reid, the would-be vigilante who starts out as a pacifist believing in law and government. The script manufactures conditions where Reid then finds himself wearing a white hat and donning a mask crafted from the bullet-ridden vest worn by his dead brother.
While Dan Reid might have been a tough-nosed Texas Ranger (and ably portrayed by James Badge Dale), his younger brother John doesn't seem a good fit at all. We first find him wedged into a church group and, garbed in a three-piece suit and nervously clutching a copy of John Locke, the younger Reid is very much a choir boy.
Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer consider changing hats. (Disney/Canadian Press)
It's not that Armie Hammer isn't suited to the character. Like Brendan Fraser, he demonstrates a comedic actor's timing trapped in a Ken-doll body. But is this The Lone Ranger you want? One who stammers and stutters like Jesse Eisenberg clutching a six-shooter? It's only near the end, when the William Tell Overture kicks in during the film's rootin' tootin' finale, that Hammer acts the part.
Until the moment where the would-be Lone Ranger realizes his destiny, the true hero is Tonto — Reid is simply his hapless sidekick. From the film's opening scene, Tonto is clear of heart and purpose. Marked by tragedy at an early age, he's a Native American warrior on the hunt for what he calls the Wendigo. Bloodthirsty outlaw Butch Cavendish is what pulls the pair together on a mission of justice.
Except that Tonto is not just Tonto, he's Johnny Depp, who has traded his trademark bangles and necklaces for a costume inspired by the Comanche tribe. Like Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, Tonto is a merry warrior and a clownish combatant who wins the day thanks to a combination of skill, luck and cheerful ambivalence.
We first see him literally on display as part of a travelling sideshow, perched under a sign that reads "The Noble Savage." But winking at the audience and acknowledging Native stereotypes doesn't excuse what is essentially a minstrel show, albeit drowning in a perfect storm of good intentions. Tonto have good vocabulary, but speak like Hulk: in first person and Hollywood Indian staccato rhythms. Tonto from Comanche tribe, but wears dead crow on head and covers face in black and white KISS rock band face paint.
So we have a hero plagued by doubt teamed with a Native American character tiptoeing across a minefield of parody and political correctness. The result is a film that lacks the courage of its convictions. The Lone Ranger can't decide whether it's an old-fashioned throwback or a 21st century touchy-feely Western. In the end, it's both and careens — like the speeding locomotives Verbinski's so fond of — between comedy and carnage.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5Armie Hammer, left, Johnny Depp, centre, and Helena Bonham Carter appear in a scene from The Lone Ranger. (Peter Mountain/The Albuquerque Journal/Disney Enterprises/Associated Press)
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