‘The Lone Ranger’: Bizarre blockbuster
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
If there's a more bizarre major studio release than "The Lone Ranger" this year, I'm not sure I want to see it. Not that I mean to insult this movie, which I suspect may actually be a genuine act of subversion on the part of its makers and is thus strangely ... admirable. Still. The damn thing is pretty exhausting.
It's not just the state-of-the-blockbuster-art fast-paced moviemaking that I found a little draining. The way the movie shifts tone so suddenly and constantly had the aggregate effect, for this viewer, of a game of ping-pong played with a basketball inside of his head. This is a movie that meticulously recreates a Gatling-gun slaughter of Native Americans, asking for empathy and tears and a sense of indignation at injustice, and then, as the simulated dead bodies are still steaming from the hot lead that's been pumped into them, cuts to a theoretically side-splitting gag involving a large animal poised in an incongruous location. In a sense, this represents an upping of the ante that producer/director Gore Verbinski, co-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Johnny Depp established with their "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, overstuffed spectacles of comedy and adventure that don't function so much as coherent movie narratives as diverting cinematic environments. "The Lone Ranger" wants you to care. Sometimes.
Purists who deign to express outrage over the liberties this picture takes with the various iterations of the source material (here the titular Ranger is a bit of a pompous bumbler, for instance) miss the point, which is not entirely relative to the kind of irreverence that's almost automatically built in to such contemporary reboots. While the movie does indeed have all sorts of potentially objectionable fun with the Lone Ranger ideal, put forward so seriously in the old television series, the fact of the matter is that the revival of the character here is merely a pretext to allow Verbinski and company to pay goofy tribute to pretty much every Western ever made. I hope someone made sure to pay Ennio Morricone residuals on the leitmotif from the score of "Once Upon A Time In The West" that Hans Zimmer's score quotes from so frequently.
The movie also lifts entire shots from Sergio Leone's classic, as well as a plot point that locates 19th Century capitalist expansion as the root of all evil (only in Leone's movie the political indignation was actually sincere). You could spend almost all of the movie's generous two-hour-and-thirty minute running time playing "Spot The Reference," which was also the case with the engaging animated movie "Rango," Verbinski's roadkill variation on, among other things, "Chinatown." It's all very indulgent, but it surely doesn't lack in invention and intelligent design: note, for instance, the rhyming bridge imagery in the movie's introductory frame story sequence, set in 1933 San Francisco, and the story proper, in which a large railroad span across a significant river figure prominently (and gets blown up in a scene so inevitable that it really can't be spoiled, and which of course was lifted in part from "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly").
But is it an enjoyable moviegoing experience? I don't know what to tell you. It might work better if consumed with some intoxicants, not that I endorse or even indulge myself. But the fact of the matter is, its cavalier attitude toward the Major Issues the story and its themes touch upon and the freewheeling insouciance of its humor do suggest a very heavily financed stoned goof on Westerns, as does its kookily convoluted plot line, which is almost malicious in the way it insists on hitting certain conventional beats, for instance, romantic rivalry between hero and someone close to hero? Check. Revenge storyline motivated by childhood trauma? Check. Representative of the law betraying his duty for greed? Check. And so on.
While I laughed a few times and was engaged by the Rube Goldberg quality of a number of the more over-the-top action sequences, and thought Depp was reliably droll, particularly in his conversations with the expressive white horse (probably played by several animals, I'd reckon) who will come to be called Silver, I have to admit that my direct experience as I left the screening was a hard-to-shake "what the hell was that?" feeling. I'm genuinely curious as to what the huge number of people who are likely to see the film make of this "Lone Ranger." And will there be enough of them to garner a sequel?