Tuesday, 24 September 2013



It's perhaps appropriate that the last scene of this reimagined Western action comedy epic has the title character declaiming his catchphrase "Hi, ho Silver, away!" to which his comedy sidekick responds "Don't ever do that again." Because the likelihood is that they won't ever do it again - it's lost a ton and a half of money (from the same studio that already lost a ton and a half of money on the criminally underrated John Carter) and if the bean counters are going to learn anything from this leap into the financial quicksand, it's "don't ever do that again". In some respects that's a pity: slavish adherence to the demographic-led school of marketing horseshit can only lead to more and more "safe" projects, sequels, remakes and spinoffs but nothing new, nothing different, nothing we haven't already seen before and already indicated we're only too happy to pay again and again to see repeated in very slight variations. Originality and invention will thus play second fiddle to an audience of easily satisfied morons and a battery of journalists only to eager to gloat over the production difficulties and rampaging budget like vultures flocking round a prospective corpse.

Because this isn't part of an established franchise (and let's face it, never will be), The Lone Ranger is an origins story and has to spend a lot of time setting up who its hero is and how he came about. Worthy but dull John Reid (Armie Hammer) is left for dead in the desert by evil Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner); nursed back to health by Tonto (Johnny Depp in facepaint), he dons the famous mask, climbs onto his white horse (which has some kind of mystical significance) and sets about administering justice as The Lone Ranger. Cavendish is only the secondary problem: there's also railroad boss Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson, easily the best thing in the movie) scheming to acquire a secret silver mine on Cherokee land by faking Indian incursions so the US Cavalry will be duped into wiping them out....

In the event, The Lone Ranger is a failure. It's ludicrously overlong at two and a half hours, it's far too reliant on the comedy relief of Johnny Depp's funny voice and funny mannerisms (which aren't all that funny anyway), and it's saddled (sorry) with a lead character who just isn't very interesting. No-one's going to make any claims for the infamous Lew Grade version from 1980, but the fact is that it's an hour shorter, it tells the Lone Ranger's origins story far more efficiently, and it doesn't make Tonto the star of the movie. As with the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, Depp is really the comedy relief from the drippy leads: in the fourth Pirates film he was promoted to the star role because Orlando and Keira had gone, but here the emphasis placed on Depp's Tonto (which even extends to the old Tonto recounting the story to a kid in a sideshow) unbalances the movie. To an extent, you can understand it because Reid/Ranger is such a bore, but it's like giving K9 top billing over Doctor Who and giving him/it all the best material.

Nor am I that bothered with complaints that Johnny Depp in facepaint as Tonto is somehow a racist, grotesquely untrue and offensive stereotype. The fact that an actor plays a role of a different ethnic stock is not that significant; no-one would suggest that Dracula only be played by Romanian actors or Hamlet only be played by Danish ones. It's called acting: playing someone you're not. The facepaint perhaps pushes it closer to "blacking up" than is comfortable, but without a major star as The Lone Ranger himself (such as Tom Cruise), there wasn't any other direction to take it. In the event Tonto isn't a negative character, an idiot or a crook, he gets most of the gags and, like Jack Sparrow, is more fun than the nominal hero.

It's only in its extended action sequences, both of which involve trains, that there's any real life and energy to the movie. But even then there's something artificial and implausible about them. The movie certainly looks terrific, Helena Bonham Carter turns up as a madam with a gun in her artificial leg, Hans Zimmer's score is better than usual (his Man Of Steel has definitely been his recent low point) and it works in the dreaded William Tell overture quite nicely, and Wilkinson gives great villainy. And I'd be lying if I said there were no laughs to be had. But for too long I was bored, probably more bored even than with the 1980 disaster, and it's not too hard to see why mass audiences have responded with something less than enthusiasm.


No comments: