BY AMBER KELLY-ANDERSON
Consider, if you will, this plot:
A quirky character played by Johnny Depp sets out on a journey of revenge, hoping to punish a villain suffering from poor dental hygiene who wronged him long ago. On his quest, he encounters an idealistic young man who believes in the white side of the law and harbors deep feelings for a woman he cannot have. Depp comes to the aid of his companion, forcing them to strike up an uneasy relationship, in part due to Depp’s anti-hero treading a path that blurs the boundaries between good and evil. Together, they set out to right all the wrongs, save the girl, and win the day. In the end, the eager young law-abiding boy has become a man who walks the line of justice, no matter what side the government might be on.
This plot, in the hands of director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, describes two different films. Add the word “pirate,” some boats, and rum? It’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Add the word “ranger,” some trains and killer jack rabbits? You have The Lone Ranger, a rambling, bloated, wood cutout piece of filmmaking that aims to lasso a bygone era in the worst possible way. In updating the 1950s television show, the filmmakers, led by Depp’s vision, attempt to flesh out the cliched Native American characters, in particular the Lone Ranger’s sidekick, Tonto. While a more culturally sensitive version of Tonto is a wise choice, the political correctness weighs on the film in an equally cliched way, so much so that aged Tonto, who narrates the film in a corny, Green Mile rip-off framing device, literally stands over a sign that says “Noble Savage.”
To compare The Lone Ranger to Pirates of the Caribbean is unavoidable due to the plot, director, and star similarities. However, The Lone Ranger fails on a number of levels where Pirates succeeded. Armie Hammer in the title role is boring, too bland to even be labeled hokey. As his star-crossed lady love (who happens to be his brother’s wife), Ruth Wilson’s paper doll performance is one rope away from being a screaming damsel tied to a train track. William Fichtner steps into the role of the bad-toothed villain and while he is not terrible, he is also not Geoffrey Rush (nor are Wilson and Hammer comparable to Knightly and Bloom). Seeing these types of roles played by different actors highlights that Pirates wasn’t just successful because of Jack Sparrow. It takes a strong crew to keep a ship afloat.
As for Depp, his performance is indicative of the bigger problem with the entire movie. He is stiff and almost-humourless, perhaps in an attempt to be respectful, but losing much in the process. Even Helena Bonham Carter, playing a role that I would bet money was in an early script draft identified as “Helena Bonham Carter Character to Be Named Later,” even seems bored in her short Cirque de Saloon scenes.
To give credit, the film does have an almost-fun, almost-good climax where composer Hans Zimmer utilizes the television show’s signature “William Tell Overture” in an inventive way. For those twenty minutes, the film is fun, carefree and engaging. Unfortunately, it takes it two hours to get there.