‘I’ ON CULTURE
The biggest problem with The Lone Ranger, a new retelling of an old favorite, is that the main character is ridiculous. We have grown up on tough western heroes. Here we have the “wuss of the West.” And because the Lone Ranger provides no real center, the whole movie is somewhat off-kilter. That is not to say there are not amusing moments or some really good action scenes. They exist. This is not the worst movie ever, nor even the worst of the summer. But it never really flies.
The problem is that the main character John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a metrosexual western hero, which does not make him a fool, but certainly an oddity. There have been relatively nonviolent western heroes before in movies such as Shane and (one of my real favorites) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The coming of law to the west is a good subject for movies, but generally there has to be a point. In this movie, there seems no point at all.
John returns to the west after studying law elsewhere. Right from the start, he steps in to protect Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a particularly vicious killer. When Tonto (Johnny Depp) is ready to kill the evil guy, known for not only killing anyone who gets in his way but occasionally eating their body parts, Reid intervenes, intoning that justice needs to take place, and the guy escapes. Later, Cavendish kills John’s brother and kidnaps his attractive sister-in-law (Ruth Wilson), who’s always had the hots for John, as well as her son. Even after that, he betrays Tonto to protect the bad guy. Even at the end of the movie, John would rather do anything except ensure that the real bad guy gets killed.
Tonto is the real center of the movie, and even though Depp gets good laughs out of the part, and the producers really worked hard to be politically correct, he still seems foolish for trusting Reid. He is not a trusty sidekick; he has his own agenda. But the two characters never seem to blend. Tonto (which means “stupid” in Spanish) calls Reid “kemo sabe,” which could be taken as “know nothing,” and has to be convinced by the spirit horse Silver to do anything for the white man. In essence, the movie becomes “dumb and dumber.” Of course, Tonto does know what he wants: the destruction of two white men who destroyed his tribe. But Reid constantly gets in his way.
I thought back to Clint Eastwood, one of the great Hollywood cowboys (although his best roles were in Italian “spaghetti westerns”) who understood vengeance. Reid comes across like one of the morons in the Dirty Harry movies who, for no apparent reason, constantly lets the bad guy go. It is hard make someone like that the hero/center of an action movie. As a result, the movie is a letdown.
On the other hand, there are some witty lines (Depp, of course, gets most of them), and a really good action scene with runaway trains. That’s what frustrates a movie reviewer. I actually enjoyed part of the film. Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski, who created the Pirates of the Caribbean films and did this one, know how to put on a good show. They did not skimp on the budget, and most of the big budget shows up on screen. But as Russians like to say, when fish start to stink, it begins at the head. And with an essentially ridiculous hero, the movie makes relatively little sense. The hero in Shane hated guns but stood up for himself. The newcomer in Liberty Valance had John Wayne to do the heavy lifting, and the title was used ironically. Here, the awkwardness of the Lone Ranger flattens the mood.
The cast was good. Depp got most of the laughs while still bringing some dignity to the role. Hammer looked the part and his acting was fine; it was the script-writer who brought him down. Helena Bonham Carter played her usual weird woman in what was essentially a cameo. Tom Wilkinson was particularly good as the railroad man who was willing to make great sacrifices of just about every other person around in order to gain wealth, power and the gorgeous sister-in-law.
But this is a film to see when it plays for free on television. I saw it; now you can avoid it. In the long run, you’ll thank me.