A few days ago, America celebrated another birthday with the release of the much maligned and financially doomed Jerry Bruckheimer Western extravaganza, THE LONE RANGER. It’s been a long hard road to the silver screen, taking five years and over $250 million dollars, but the world has finally been assaulted by Johnny Depp’s bird-hat wearing Tonto. It’s this year’s John Carter; more attention has been given to its budget and ballooning behind-the-scenes than the final product, and those that bothered to see it this holiday mostly seem to fall on the bad side of rage filled disgust. I was pretty much ready to go in guns blazing, but I quickly found myself intoxicated by its oddity. THE LONE RANGER is weird, gross, violent, ugly, bloated, and quite perverse. I thought it was amazing, and possibly my favorite Blockbuster of the summer so far.
This ain’t your granddaddy’s Saturday Morning serial. Those looking forward to a cartoony reinvention of peace-pipe smoking Tonto & his condescending masked accomplice should look elsewhere. This is not Sam Peckinpah’s West. It’s not John Ford’s Monument Valley. This is not tribute filmmaking. This film is a straight up Gore Verbinski weirdo picture, and there might be hints of the familiar, but the man is obviously enjoying his poop humor and gore gags more than anyone else in America. The closest this film gets to homage is the bonkers tone of a hundred forgotten Spaghetti Westerns. Not Leone or Corbucci, but THE LONE RANGER revels in the same awkward comedy seen in Mario Bava’s ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK or Terrence Hill’s TRINITY pictures.
So what I’m telling you is that THE LONE RANGER is overlong, filled with awkward & often unfunny comedy, and if you’re already planted on the Johnny Depp hate-train then this film will only stoke your fires of contempt. But dammit, there are cannibal rabbits in this movie. A man vomits in revulsion after a cleft outlaw consumes the heart of a victim. Barry Pepper nearly reaches orgasm as he molests the ivory leg of Helena Bonham Carter. This film is crazy and it does not care about your wants, desires, or needs for the Summer Season. After scoring billions of dollars for Disney, Gore Verbinski & Johnny Depp were given carte blanche to create whatever sick madness they desired, and they chose a goofy & nearly forgotten radio drama to punish. What was their initial attraction? I’m not sure. Cowboys & Indians, “Hi Ho Silver!” It’s simply a yesteryear brand to bend to their demented glee. And I’ve drowned in the Kool-Aid.
Not much has been said about Armie Hammer. Obviously, from a marketing standpoint, this is Johnny Depp’s movie. Years ago, when the gears of this machine were just starting to grind, speculation was that Depp’s Tonto would usurp the masked vigilante. That truth be told, Tonto was the real hero of the piece, teaching a hapless Texas Ranger the ropes of frontier justice. Those curious to see what this incarnation might look like should read Joe R. Lansdale’s rather brilliant comic book series from Topps, cuz Depp’s Comanche castoff ventures just as much into buffoonery as Captain Jack Sparrow. And I’m not tired of his silent film theatrics. I get the chuckles as he Marlon Brandos props, randomly feeding seed to the dead bird on his head. The man has complete control over his face; he works great disgust towards his buddy cop partner with simple brow control. I certainly don’t understand how these war paint glares make for a more respectful version of the character, but if the Comanche Nation sees fit to induct this questionable Cherokee into the tribe than who am I to judge.
The actual narrative is pedestrian and obvious for the genre. As the railroad connects the nation, the Wild West witnesses its final days. Armie Hammer dreams of bringing John Locke’s justice to the frontier while his Texas Ranger brother dares to strike peace with the Comanche people. Greed is the villain of the day, and a war ignited will mean straighter rail tracks between the coasts. Betrayal leads to canyon shootouts and revenge driven plots. William Fichtner has made a career from quirky characters, and his Butch Cavendish sits fiendishly next to previous roles like The Accountant from DRIVE ANGRY or ALBINO ALLIGATOR’s Law. And that’s where you find the enjoyment in the film. Fichtner, Depp, Carter, Pepper, and Tom Wilkinson. The film obviously cares more about its oddball characters and their celestial performances than its rote screenplay.
America is an audience craving spandex, muscle cars, and The Rock. They’ll only turn up for a Western if Quentin Tarantino promises geysers of stringy blood or if Jeff Bridges mushmouths insults as he slaps leather. They certainly don’t want to see Johnny Depp threaten to rape a transvestite bandit with a severed duck foot…yeah, what the hell? I don’t know, but that is just one tiny curiosity in a heap of kinky behavior. THE LONE RANGER is Gore Verbinksi running wild. Get on board.
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