With Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson. Written by Justin Haythe and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material. 149 minutes.
Times change. Someone arguing that the original “Lone Ranger”–on radio, TV or the big screen–was “racist” or “sexist” or, perhaps, “socialist,” should be laughed at until they go away. In the context of its time, it may have accepted stereotypes we would later reject, but we do not require filmmakers to predict the future. However, what is the excuse for the overlong, sorry mess coming out in 2013 as Disney’s THE LONE RANGER?
The story is told in flashback by an aged Tonto (Johnny Depp), which is only the start of the film’s many problems. From the casting of Depp as the faithful American Indian sidekick to making Tonto (which means “fool” in Spanish) the star of the film, it’s clear that this was made simply because director Gore Verbinski had made money with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies with Depp. The part was once played by Chief Thundercloud (in two movie serials) and Jay Silverheels (on TV and the movies in the 1950s), both authentic Indians. Depp, an immensely talented actor, should be ashamed of his minstrel show performance here.
The plot, if the bloated but empty script can be credited with having one, has to do with straight-arrow law school graduate John Reid (Armie Hammer) coming to Colby, Texas to serve as prosecutor. His brother (James Badge Dale) is the town marshal and the big news is that the railroad, represented by the oily Cole (Tom Wilkinson), is coming through. Cole promises the execution of the vile Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), but instead Butch escapes, kills Reid’s brother, and is involved in an evil scheme with his well-connected business friends.
As the film witlessly lumbers along, Tonto offers Reid advice (after almost burying him alive) believing him to be a “spirit walker” who will bring evildoers to justice. However, since Depp is a big star and Hammer isn’t, the movie is weighted towards Tonto’s story. From the dead bird he wears on his head to his habit of “trading” for the things he steals, the character is a clown. Clearly they are trying to turn Tonto into another Captain Jack Sparrow, but it doesn’t work.
The women are also treated horribly here. They’re prostitutes, uptight religious activists, or Reid’s comely widow-in-law (Ruth Wilson). Helena Bonham Carter shows up for a few scenes as a one-legged prostitute, with her false leg concealing a rifle. Remember when Carter was considered a serious actress? It’s been a long time.
About the only good thing one can say about the film is that the stunt work is often exciting. A climactic chase, involving two runaway trains, is quite impressive. One doesn’t actually care about any of the people on screen, but the action choreography is very well done. Perhaps the people responsible for that should have been allowed to make the movie instead.
That this is a Disney film is amazing and appalling. The racism and sexism is nothing new, but the level of violence is another matter. Parents, don’t take little kids to this: the villain eats the heart of one of his victims, there are mass slaughters of both Indians and soldiers, Reid and Tonto are buried up to their neck and attacked by scorpions, and the villains die horrible deaths. There’s enough here to keep your kids in nightmares and therapy for years to come.
They may think they’re launching a new franchise with “The Lone Ranger,” but seriously, this may be one of the biggest miscalculations of the summer.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.