Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Lone Ranger; we have a new John Carter of Mars

Damn, Gore Verbinski's Lone Ranger  is actively terrible. Apparently Verbinski, Armie Hammer (who, it turns out, is not a product of the Victorinix company, if for no other reason than their products can do more than one thing and aren't made of wood), and omni-mistake Jerry Bruckheimer have all gone on the road complaining that the critics all focused on how much the move cost and how long it took rather than on whether it was any good. Guys, the critics were doing you a favour. The movie, just viewed as an actual movie, is the next best thing to - well, I was going to say a war crime, but this is a bad week for that comparison. You could have run a pretty respectable war for what it cost to produce Lone Ranger, but lets try to keep the waste of money in perspective. For example, it only cost HALF what it looks like it will cost to build a children's hospital in Dublin and it didn't take anything like as long as to produce as that's taking, though I've had several painful surgeries which honestly didn't feel like they were taking as long as Lone Ranger took in the cinema.

Still, put the money to one side, and just look at the movie. It's two and a half hours long, or to put it another way, at least an hour longer than its plot, which is a dumb as a bag of hammers, John-Ford-asking-is-that-all-you've-got tale of corruption on the railroads and the white man screwing over the red man, a theme which was last fresh some time around about the time they set the framing device, in 1930s California.

The framing device, of Tonto playing dress-up and explaining the story to a kid at a Wild West show in 1930-something adds about twenty minutes to the running time and exactly nothing else. Well, it gave Depp an excuse to clown around in ageing make-up, and it jolts the poor bloody audience out of the story at around about the points where they will eventually break this thing for commercials when it gets shown on TV. In fairness to the production team, it probably didn't have to cost much, though I bet they still found a way to make it cost more than space flight.

Then we've got the best part of an hour devoted to introducing us to Tonto and the future Lone Ranger and all the major villains, including a massive train wreck (which is totally not a metaphor for anything in the production, or it is, and I just want to be slightly bigger than that). And we didn't need that. I don't even know that we ever again need to see an origin story for anything, ever, but the lead up to Armie Hammer becoming the Lone Ranger is actively more stupid than the lead up to the A-Team becoming the A-Team, and until now I hadn't known that bar could be crossed without black magic, the sacrifice of first-born children and the opening of a a threshold into the alternate dimensions of Shoggoth. The good news is that you've seen most of this nonsense in the trailer, so that at least the rest of the movie might seem somewhat fresh, but when that's the good news….

Anyhow, after an hour which for most people was probably spent playing Angry Birds on their smart phones, the movie finally gets to the point where it should have just kicked off; Armie Hammer waking up with a crowd of dead folks around him, with Johnny Depp looting his body. That's a good opening in most of the trailers I've seen for this movie, and it would be a pretty good media res moment for the movie itself; any back story (a way over-valued resource) could conveniently be handled by flashback and exposition, something the rest of the movie hardly stints itself on in the first place. However, I don't want you to come away with the idea that if you just hacked the first hour off the movies, what would be left would be any good. We're a long way from being able to make that claim.

Firstly, you've got an Armie Hammer problem. I have probably missed his best work (I fear for humanity if I've just seen it), but Lone Ranger seems to be his try-out reel to fill the crater left by Taylor Kitsch in John Carter of Mars. Then you've got a Johnny Depp problem. A lot of people have complained that his acting in this movie is an insult to Native Americans, but honestly, after Sand Creek, the Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee and every other damn thing that's happened to them, I hardly think they need to take a moment out to be aggrieved about a stupid caricature from a wealthy actor who probably meant well. I'm more concerned about the way it's an insult to Captain Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp was potentially one of the great actors of his generation, but instead chose to play a complete f***wit because it was both hilarious and incredibly lucrative. And as long as he chose to do that, he owes it to the audience to be at least that funny all the time. Tonto is about as funny as the measles. When the character's being played for laughs in the first place, that's just unforgivable. 

Tchah, in other words. Who else isn't doing their best work? William Fichtner. I just saw him being ghastly in Elysium and forgot to give him a shout out for sheer creepiness. Butch Cavendish is a brute's brute, but that's by no means the best possible use of an actor who's always been good at suggesting a little more than just brutality. Tom Wilkinson is hiding behind a beard, wisely, but pulls off a fair to middling capitalist scumbag. Helena Bonham Carter, out in public with Depp but weirdly without Tim Burton to chaperone, plays a saloon-bar madame with a scrimshaw leg which must have seemed hilarious in the pub (actually, even the phrase "saloon-bar madame with a  scrimshaw leg" seems much funnier to me as I type it than it proved in practice). Ruth Wilson is the damsel in distress; lord knows I don't want to see anyone typecast, but using Alice from Luther as a damsel in distress is like using Milla bloody Jovovich to play Pippi Longstocking.

However, I will say this. The last half hour or so is bloody wonderful. There's trains, but you can't not admire a chase involving not just two trains and endless slapstick, but the Lone Ranger riding not just along the roof of one train, but THROUGH the train. The whole thing is scored to the William Tell Overture, as it bloody well should be, and for as long as that's jaunting along, it's enormous fun. Because it's exactly as stupid as it set out to be. Everything is ridiculous and larger than life and silly, and it would take a heart of stone not to enjoy it. But that's 20 minutes of good fun beached in 149 minutes of over-done mediocrity. So this week's top tip, FWIW, is to wait till this thing is on TV, and then tune in about half an hour before the NEXT programme. You'll laugh your socks off, as long as you remember to change channels as soon as the chase ends.

PS: I don't know why I didn't think of it at the time, but the last words of the movie go to Johnny Depp after the Lone Ranger has reared his horse up and screamed "Hi-yo, Silver away." "Never do that again." says Tonto; and still the cast went on the road saying the critics were being unreasonable.

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