July 03, 2013

THE LONE RANGER Is Aggressively Awful, Makes Me Despair For Intelligent Audiences

"They were gonna violate me with a duck's foot!"
Jesus Fuck, there simply isn't enough firewater in the world to get me to watch this movie again.

My problems with Disney's The Lone Ranger are perfectly encapsulated in the film's very last scene.  The Lone Ranger, wearing his signature black mask and white hat, sits atop his trusty steed, Silver.  He rears the horse back on its hind legs, holds his hat up in the air and cries out, "Hi ho, Silver!  Away!"  It's the character's classic pose, a perfect iconic image.  The film then immediately cuts to Johnny Depp's Tonto, who looks at the Lone Ranger with a look of absolute horror and yells, "Don't ever do that again!"

If that's how you feel about the character, why the fuck bother making this movie?  And what's worse, the audience I was with reacted like it was THE FUNNIEST GODDAMN THING THEY'VE EVER SEEN.

Let's rewind.  First of all, an irate aside: Since I was attending a preview screening, I had to go through Disney's draconian security process to get in.  Now I worked security for these kinds of screenings for the better part of four years, so I know exactly how this game is played.  You want to take my phone away because it has a camera?  Fine.  It's annoying, but understandable, even if the movie I'm about to watch hits theaters in a mere three days.  I will surrender my iPhone and accept it as the cost of doing business.  But you know what you don't need to confiscate?  Some lady's headphones.  Or the Kindle of the guy in front of me.  Or my fucking flash drives.  I'm all about preventing piracy, but there's no reason that we can't have policies which operate on the most basic awareness of how technology works.  Just because something contains a circuit, that doesn't make it a recording device.  (It's the same reason I hate being told I can't read my Kindle on a plane during takeoff, despite the fact that the whole point of e-ink displays is that they literally do not use any power except for the moment you flip the page.)  If you really think that I'm hiding a camera in my headphones, then the security guards who you're paying to stand in the theater with night vision scopes will certainly catch me.  But there's no reason to make getting in the theater (or retrieving my belongings after the show) any more arduous a procedure than absolutely necessary.

Okay, rant over.  What about the actual movie?

This is a film that is chock full of terrible decisions, most if which can be attributed to screenwriters Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Justin Haythe. There's the basic, conceptual stuff like turning The Lone Ranger into a wimpy lawyer who spends most of the movie refusing to use a gun and the rest of the movie pulling off incredible trick shots entirely by accident. Or there's the utterly pointless inclusion of the wraparound scenes with Old Man Tonto relaying the entire story to a kid at a traveling fair in 1933, all of which plays like the Fred Savage scenes from Princess Bride but without the innate charm of Peter Faulk. And let's not forget the utter lack of consistent tone, with the film constantly switching between dark, savage violence (like the compete massacre of not one but TWO Native American tribes) and zany, cartoon stunts like the magical white horse who climbs onto roofs or into trees for no reason other than OH MY GOD, THAT HORSE IS CRAZY!

In fact, it's utterly astounding just how packed to the gills this movie is with incredibly broad humor that just doesn't land.  There are all these terrible bits with giant-fanged CGI rabbits that are supposed to indicate that nature is somehow out of balance, but don't worry if you find it confusing because it's not a plot point that goes anywhere or means anything. The movie also contains the single most tasteless, borderline offensive joke of the year, in which Tonto threatens to rape a transvestite bandit with a petrified duck's foot.  Seriously. Not only is this stuff not funny, but they're clearly playing to the absolute dumbest motherfucker in the room, as evidenced by a closeup shot of Silver taking a huge dump and then Armie Hammer getting dragged through the ensuing pile of horseshit.

And the audience absolutely ate it up.  Couldn't get enough of it!  "More horse poop!"

I was joking on Twitter before the screening about the public's love of Johnny Depp wearing a funny hat, but now that comment feels downright prescient.  It's common knowledge at this point that Depp spends the movie with a dead crow perched atop his head, but just to drive the image home he is constantly trying to feed the thing peanuts and birdseed.  Once or twice would have been funny, but eventually it basically devolves into a weird character tic that my audience totally fell in love with while I searched for pointed sticks to jab into my eyes.  Where Captain Jack Sparrow was a competent, lovable rogue, Tonto is quickly revealed to be nothing more than a idiotic, delusional asshole.  The same can be said Johnny Depp.  There's no more debate over whether not the guy's shtick has jumped the shark, now its just a question of how high. Depp is constantly clowning and mugging for the camera while cracking jokes in an oddly modern parlance, but then in the middle of all his red-face bullshit there will be glimmer of hope, a quick flash of brilliance that reminds me  why he can be such a compelling onscreen force when he wants to be.  But then it's gone just as swiftly as it appeared and I'm forced to admit that, much like Tim Burton, Gore Verbinski is a director who now only enables Depp's  very worst tendencies.

I'll give Verbinski this: he shoots the living shit out of the thing, filling the frame with a million moving pieces hurtling at breakneck speeds, yet somehow bringing order to the chaos and managing to make it look downright beautiful at times.  But there's just no saving this runaway train.  It's about a half an hour longer than it needs to be, it strands great character actors like Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper and Helena Bonham-Carter with absolutely nothing to do, and it sets the bar for humor and storytelling impossibly low...then somehow manages to trip over it.  The only person I feel really bad for is Armie Hammer, a seriously talented guy who's clearly giving it everything he's got but is ultimately stuck playing a character that just flat out doesn't work as written.

This is an objectively bad movie.  Just awful on every front.  But what really put it over the top for me was the moronic, mouth-breathing audience that surrounded me.  Their reactions just astounded me at every turn. Not only did they crack up laughing at terrible jokes, (or every single time Depp fed that fucking bird), but they even laughed at things that were clearly not jokes.  Late in the film (too late) the Lone Ranger finally realizes that his much vaunted society of law and order has become utterly corrupt and that he must take matters into his own hands.  He and Tonto sit in the darkness on a riverbank, dejected after watching the U.S. Army slaughter an entire tribe of natives solely to cover up a silver theft.  As the Lone Ranger sits by the water, a man betrayed by the system he prized above all else, Tonto slowly holds up the black mask, offering him a means to find justice and to save the the people he loves...and the audience started cackling.  I honestly couldn't tell you why.  Here's an even more befuddling example: early on, when the Lone Ranger's brother Dan, one of the movie's few well defined characters played to the hilt by James Badge Dale, prepares to ride off with his posse to capture William Fichtner, he has a long, drawn out goodbye with his wife and son, underscored by a super heavy-handed musical cue.  It's very clear that he's saying goodbye to them for the last time and won't be coming home alive.  And yet, when he gets shot down ten minutes later, the room reacted with complete shock and surprise.  The same when the Ranger's love interest is casually backhanded by a villain in the middle of a big action scene and appears for a quick moment to fall out of the train.  This is a major character who we've spent a lot of time with, the kind who don't get accidentally pushed to their death while seven other things are happening.  And yet, I heard people gasping as if they thought she'd really been casually killed.  Walking out of the theater, I felt like I was living in a present day Idiocracy.  These people not only lost their minds and the stupidest jokes imaginable, (they'd probably line up for a show called Ow, My Balls) but they had apparently never seen a movie before.  As bad as the film was, watching it with that audience only increased my anger and frustration exponentially.  It actually made me long for the version of this movie that was about werewolves.

I don't know what more I can possibly say to warn you off of seeing The Lone Ranger.  It's an absolute failure on every conceivable level and it encapsulates all of the absolute worst instincts of the modern Hollywood machine.  It instantly leaped to the top of my "Bottom Ten" list and I'll be astounded if anything can manage to knock it from it's shitty throne.

Be warned: your punishment for buying a ticket to The Lone Ranger is that you have to watch The Lone Ranger.

Title: The Lone Ranger
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham-Carter, James Badge Dale, Barry Pepper, Ruth Wilson, Stephen Root
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Theatrical - AMC Boston Common (Advanced Screening)

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