Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner
Directed by: Gore Verbinski (“Rango”)
Written by: Justin Haythe (“Snitch”), Ted Elliott (“Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy), Terry Rossio (“Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy)
Every so often, one reads articles about a film, sees the cast, watches trailers and marketing campaigns and can smell a box-office bomb from a mile away. Remember last year’s “John Carter?” An ambitious project based on a nearly 100-year-old book, Disney spent approximately $250 million on the project. Starring in the lead role was an actor whose biggest role was a strong albeit supporting role on TV’s “Friday Night Lights.” The results were predictably disastrous with mixed results from critics. Even worse, the film earned a domestic gross of only $73 million prompting Disney to publicly blame the film for their earnings loss that year. Early looks at Disney’s latest film, “The Lone Ranger,” caused many to draw parallels to “Carter” and wonder if the bloated failed blockbuster will become something of an annual Disney tradition.
In “The Lone Ranger,” district attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer) comes home to visit his brother (James Badge Dale), who is a Texas Ranger, and is deputized to help them hunt down a dangerous outlaw (William Fichtner). Soon after, the team is ambushed and Reid finds himself the only ranger left not riddled with bullets. Left for dead, Reid joins up with a revenge-seeking Indian named Tonto (Johnny Depp), disguises himself with a black mask, and goes in search of the ruthless criminal who killed his brother in hopes of bringing him to justice.
At this point in his career, it seems like Depp has agreed to sign onto any movie where he is allowed to wear make-up and act goofy. As Tonto, Depp is less than inspiring, though his performance is not nearly as racist as it had potential for. Depp’s screentime is relegated to unfunny one-liners, weird stares and making dim-witted faces in a failed attempt to capture the fun best seen in the original “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Unfortunately, Depp’s gag is getting tired and a return to traditional acting would be more than welcome. As for Hammer, he simply doesn’t bring the onscreen charisma of a leading man needed for a film like this. His version of Reid as a do-gooder feels blasé and he puts no urgency into the role.
One of the strangest decisions of the film was to tell it through a framing device where a withered old Tonto rehashes his story to a child visiting the museum section of a carnival. It adds absolutely nothing to the narrative and feels shoehorned and awkward each time it is revisited throughout the film. There are some decent set pieces, but overall, even the film’s action sequences are pretty mundane. Like a lot of westerns, there are shootouts and train hopping scenes, but nothing memorable in the way of adventure. At one point late in the film, the familiar sounds of the William Tell Overture crank up during an extended action scene involving runaway trains and the film actually kicks into high gear. Hopes are promptly squashed as the film’s ridiculous tone gets in the way and a child slingshots a grape into Tonto’s mouth.
So let’s recap: the film is based on a character that debuted in 1933, which hasn’t seen a meaningful iteration since the 1950s. One of the film’s major stars (Hammer), while a promising up-and-comer, is nowhere near the level he needs to be to anchor and sell tickets to a tent-pole blockbuster. The film’s budget is also estimated somewhere in the eye-popping $250-million range. Sound familiar?
But the worst offense of all? The film is just flat out bad. It fails not only as a western, but as an action comedy and a good old-fashioned summer family film. Put that and the constant struggle for a consistent tone together and you can see why “The Lone Ranger” is well on its way to being the biggest dud of the year. In the film’s closing moments, Hammer retorts to Depp and asks, “Do you even know what Tonto means in Spanish?” We certainly do, and chances are, some of the folks who greenlit the film at Disney will know soon enough, too.