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11 Jul 2013

Career Low: Johnny Depp Will Forever Regret the Dreck That Is 'The Lone Ranger'

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Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger. Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger.

At one point during its journey to the screen, Disney halted production on The Lone Ranger because it was costing too much, and the studio was not sure a Western-themed summer tent-pole movie was a good idea. Eventually, they caved in to Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski, producing it for a reported $225 million.

This will now go down as a huge, massive, unthinkable, crazy, job-killing blunder. The people who had the good sense to initially halt production should’ve stuck to their guns.

What a misguided, uncomfortable movie this is. Johnny Depp appearing as Tonto, with his face painted to mask the fact that he isn’t Native American, is a travesty. His movies have been mediocre at best lately, but this bad career choice goes well beyond the likes of The Tourist: This is the kind of stuff that cuts future paydays in half.

The film is an odd parody of The Lone Ranger, or at least it comes off that way, with strange comedic undertones and clichés exaggerated to the point of intolerability. Remember how Back to the Future Part III paid homage to the West by exaggerating it in a semi-funny way? The Lone Ranger makes Back to the Future Part III seem authentic in comparison.

How bad is it? The framing device is a very old Tonto telling some kid dressed as the Lone Ranger about how he met the masked man, and their travels together. Tonto, looking like anything but a human being, is making a living posing as a Native American in a museum exhibit, right next to a grizzly bear.

Depp and Verbinski (Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean partner in crime) choose to play this depressing storytelling angle for laughs. Depp wears a dead crow on his head throughout the film, with his face covered in war paint in the flashbacks. He takes some sort of odd, Buster Keaton-like physical approach to the role that makes him look desperate, lost and straining for the laughs that don’t come. His line deliveries are stilted and unimaginative. This is a career low for a guy capable of great things. It’s reminiscent of such travesties as John Travolta in Battlefield Earth, Louis Gossett Jr. in Enemy Mine and Sylvester Stallone in Judge Dredd. It’s a choice that will haunt Depp for the rest of his career.

As for the Lone Ranger himself, Armie Hammer doesn’t seem to know what movie he is in. He sports an inconsistent accent, and plays the virtuous John Reid as a stooge to Tonto’s voice of reason. He is, in no way, prepared to handle a role of this magnitude. As the title character, he makes no impression, and is second fiddle to the top-billed, masquerading Depp.

However, Depp and Hammer aren’t even close to being the worst things about this movie. William Fichtner, an actor I usually enjoy, is unwatchable as bad-guy Butch Cavendish, a scarred, gold-toothed monster who eats the heart of the Lone Ranger’s brother as he lies wounded and watching. This was in direct contrast to the comedic, goofy nature of the rest of the film. It’s the sort of thing that leaves viewers too aghast to laugh the next time Depp makes one of this stupid funny faces. In my head, when Depp mugged shortly thereafter, I was thinking, “Yeah, well, I just saw a man die in a fashion that made that moment when the priest pulled a heart out of somebody in the Indiana Jones movie look like Mary Poppins. Laughter isn’t happening for a while, Johnny. Sorry.”

Everything in this movie is taken too far, from the dirt makeup, to the crazy beards and chops, to the caricature accents. Even the sound of a kid eating a peanut is turned up to an extent that becomes gut-churning and abrasive.

Regular readers know that I often complain about horror movies that exchange much-needed dread and gore for a PG-13 rating. Well, I get even more annoyed by PG-13 movies marketed to kids and families that contain the kind of violence on display in this crap. Heart-eating, horse-trampling, multiple gunshots, stabbings and the threat of sticking a duck foot up somebody’s ass should not be on the viewing agenda for the entire family.

Disney is going to take a major loss on this one. This is another major blockbuster disappointment after misfires like Man of Steel, World War Z, The Hangover Part III and After Earth. This is officially turning into a summer of bad movies.

I was truly embarrassed for Depp while watching The Lone Ranger. Remember before Jack Sparrow, when he was a boutique movie star who chose interesting and scintillating projects like Cry Baby and Ed Wood? He has more money than God now, so I’m hoping he has some indie films in his future.

The Lone Ranger is playing in theaters across the valley.

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