Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Unfortunately, 'The Lone Ranger' is really Tonto’s variety show

By Steve Crum

Lone Ranger creators George W. Trendle and Fran Striker are surely doing pinwheels in their respective graves. This new take on the legendary masked man is far from what the radio pioneers had in mind back in 1933. The Lone Ranger (2013, not the 1956 feature film) is an odd mix of parody, homage, and re-imagining of the legend. Tis pity, since just about all the basic elements are present: sidekick Tonto, horses Silver and Scout, the mask, a silver bullet (but only one), bad guy Butch Cavindish, and The Lone Ranger himself. Even the famous theme music,  Rossini’s William Tell Overture, is included big time in the film’s exhausting finale.

The primary reason The Lone Ranger fails is because cohesiveness is missing. Written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio, the story plays out like three drafts meshed together. The marketing strategy was obviously to please three targets: elderly Lone Ranger fans, pre-teens who have never heard of The Lone Ranger, and hard core action movie fans. As for the latter, the head outlaw cuts out and eats the heart of one of his victims! Why has Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) become Hannibal Lector? 

God knows there have been endless send-ups of The Lone Ranger, including Lenny Bruce’s famous routine, Thank You, Masked Man, which was even made into an animated short. Stan Freberg satirized the Ranger on radio and record, turning him into a psychiatrist on horseback, The Lone Analyst. Pronto was his sidekick. Freberg even hired the “real” Lone Ranger and Tonto, Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, to appear fully costumed in a pizza commercial: “Hi-o, pizza rolls!” After a dud revival movie, 1981’s The Legend of the Lone Ranger, how could the Ranger be salvaged in 2013?

Disney Studios hired Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski to fashion this Lone into a makeshift Pirates movie,   substituting trains for ships, and starring Captain Jack himself, Johnny Depp, as what used to be The Lone Ranger's sidekick. However, in this bastardized version, Tonto is the star and the masked man is his sidekick. Depp’s Tonto is definitely the reason to see this movie, from his quirky, mystical silliness to his elaborate Native American war paint and dead crow head gear to his obviously superior intelligence. The Lone Ranger aka John Reid (Armie Hammer) is characterized as a half-witted, cowardly, Eastern dweeb. His only save is that he has traveled West to practice law and visit his brother, a truly heroic Texas Ranger. Hammer plays the role the best anyone could, that of a drab, one dimensional character. 

I do need to sandwich in a couple of actors whose roles call for flamboyance, and they succeed fabulously. One is the always watchable Tom Wilkinson as a seething railroad bad guy, and the other is Helena Bonham Carter’s saloon owner, Reed Harrington. Her role is definitely one Striker and Trendle could and would never have created. Not only does she dress like the madam she is, she sports a pistol firing mechanism at the base of her false, porcelain leg. Just another goody for the kids in the audience.

At the outset, Tonto’s disdain for his future saddle pal includes him dragging a wounded Reid across the prairie, and through horse dung. It is Tonto who opens the film, come to life in Night at the Museum fashion, in a San Francisco museum, circa 1933. His skin looking akin to Jack Crabb’s in Little Big Man, Tonto becomes storyteller to a young Lone Ranger fan, who is a museum patron. In flashback, we learn how Tonto met John Reid in 1879 after saving him when he, his brother, and a band of Texas Rangers are left for dead after being ambushed by the Butch Cavindish gang. The huge rewrite here is that Tonto reluctantly rescues Reid. Mentoring Reid by teaching him to ride and shoot was never remotely in his plan. Incidentally, the great horse Silver miraculously appears in the desert when John Reid needs transportation. Even Silver has more savvy than Reid/Ranger, and certainly more sense of humor. Tonto refers to the steed as a “spirit horse.” 

For 80 years, the legendary Lone Ranger has endured pop culture, and much of that is debunked during this nearly two and a half hours of misguided storytelling. Much like Silver’s sudden appearance, The Lone Ranger himself undergoes a miraculous transformation via the visually stunning finale. All of a sudden, he and Tonto work as a team; the Ranger rides the great horse Silver across the top of a speeding train; and all his pistol shots are bullseyes. Without explanation, via Tonto’s sage recollection, a superhero of the Old West is born. Clark Kent indeed becomes Superman, per se. 

Hollywood has already done its hack job, rather successfully, on Sherlock Holmes, making him a kick boxing sleuth. Now it’s the Lone Ranger. Prepare yourself for Armie Hammer as good guy spy Illya Kuryakin in next year’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., based on the TV series. Henry Cavill, currently playing Superman in The Man of Steel (another hero reworking), will star as Napoleon Solo. 

It seems everything old is new again, but not nearly as entertaining. 
GRADE on a Scale of A to F: C-
Is The Lone Ranger really depicted as a wimpy idiot in this movie? The answer is in this trailer:
Compare it with the trailer to 1956's The Lone Ranger:

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steve! Great site! Do you have an email address I can contact you on? Thanks and have a great day!