News Column

Lone Ranger Mixes Styles; Johnny Depp is a Sly Tonto

July 6, 2013

The Lone Ranger (PG-13) H
Its an article of faith in a movie industry obsessed with chasing multiple demographic groups that no summer blockbuster can be only one thing. White House Down cant be just an action adventure, it has to be a buddy comedy. Man of Steel isnt only a science fiction comic book movie, its a violence-heavy special effects spectacle. Iron Man 3 isnt just a special effects spectacle, it has to have a little romance.
The Lone Ranger, starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp,
presents audiences with a case not just of both but all of the above. A draggy
reboot of the franchise Western that started as a radio series before it became
a movie serial and then a hit TV show, this mishmash of styles, genres and tonal
shifts makes for a dizzying pastiche best described in terms of the many movies
it references throughout its nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time, from
Little Big Man, Buster Keatons The General and the Monument Valley-set canon of
John Ford to Dead Man, Rango and Pirates of the Caribbean. Those last three, of
course, starred Depp himself. And it turns out that The Lone Ranger may best be
understood and appreciated as one long, baggy homage to Depp, who addresses the
myriad personae that have made him the worlds biggest movie star, especially the
tattooed, bejeweled bohemian primitive that defines his off-screen look as well
as the punched-up version when he plays Jack Sparrow. As Tonto, the Lone Rangers
perennially stoic and monosyllabic sidekick, Depp both challenges and indulges
in the caricatures that made Jay Silverheels TV character such a lightning rod
for Native American outrage. Depp plays Tonto as a sly, sarcastic spirit
warrior, continually mugging and making with subtle put-downs of his earnest but
dim crime-fighting partner. But his guttural pidgin English, elaborate war paint
and the ridiculous dead crow he wears as a headdress suggest that, for all his
desire to give Tonto the dimension and dignity he was robbed of for decades,
Depp owes his own dubious debt to the Noble Savage stereotype he claims to
critique. Tonto and the Lone Ranger whose real name is John Reid meet aboard a
train headed for a tiny Texas town in 1869, when the transcontinental railroad
is about to be joined, a businessman named Cole (Tom Wilkinson in full Snidely
Whiplash mode) is about to make a lot of money, and an outlaw named Butch
Cavendish (William Fichtner) is about to be hanged. But wait, theres more!
Theres a comely sister-in-law (played by Ruth Wilson), a sharp- eyed,
ivory-legged brothel-keeper (Helena Bonham Carter) and her bevy of painted
ladies, there are flash forwards to a carnival midway in 1933 and runaway trains
and roaming buffalo and brutal massacres and war dances and cannibalistic
rabbits. Presumably, the myth will be burnished in future installments, although
its difficult to foresee The Lone Ranger becoming an international hit. No doubt
the baby boomers who grew up with the original forms will smile when the William
Tell Overture kicks in during the films climactic sequence, but director Gore
Verbinskis strenuous efforts to inject enough violence, spectacle and action to
make The Lone Ranger comprehensible to foreign audiences wind up making way too
much of way too little. Whats more, despite its impressively staged set pieces,
The Lone Ranger cant survive the epic train wreck resulting from its own tonal
clashes, wherein mournful scenes of genocide and stolen immigrant labor are
tastelessly juxtaposed with silly slapstick humor, and solemn historic
revisionism abuts awkwardly with overblown computer-generated spectacle. One of
the running gags of The Lone Ranger is that it was Reids braver, cooler sibling
who was always destined to be the real Lone Ranger: When John Reid finally asks
what Ke-mo sah-bee means, Tonto replies that its Comanche for Wrong Brother. As
for the Comanche word for Wrong Movie, well just have to guess.


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Source: Copyright Charleston Daily Mail (WV) 2013. Distributed by MCT Information Services