July 10, 2013 at 4:09 PM

The Lone Ranger Bombs Again!

"Hollywood bomb lightning has struck New Mexico twice now, with two ill-conceived, ill-fated big-budget movie versions of that tale of an ambushed Texas Ranger who returns from the practically dead to become a masked hero with an Indian saddle buddy."

By Casey St. Charnez

Media Rare

Casey St. Charnez has been video editor for Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide since 1986 and buyer for Lisa Harris' Video Library since 1981. He likes Lisa, cats, crosswords, and the Metropolitan Opera, probably in that order.

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Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Silver in 1967 at Pleasure Island in Wakefield Massachusetts. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As promised here, I did go to the new Jerry Bruckheimer production yesterday, July 9th –I waited to blog until the bean-counting was done--and I’m here to report that “The Lone Ranger” isn’t that bad.

It’s THAT BAD.

Hollywood bomb lightning has struck New Mexico twice now, with two ill-conceived, ill-fated big-budget movie versions of that tale of an ambushed Texas Ranger who returns from the practically dead to become a masked hero with an Indian saddle buddy.

Indeed, it is a tale oft told, first as a 1933 Detroit radio show that caught on nationally. Republic Pictures made serials in 1938 and 1939. It became a baby boomer TV staple from 1949-57, launching Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels into pop culture heaven. Warner Bros. released two theatrical movies with Moore and Silverheels in 1956 and 1958. There have also been Saturday cartoons, comic books, board games, even a video game (in 1991, from Nintendo).

Inevitably, someone would want to reboot it as a major movie.

Twice, even.

Each is a train wreck.
   
“The Legend of the Lone Ranger,” shot all around Northern New Mexico back in 1981, was a debacle in its day. Despite an elaborate and well-attended pre-release press junket hosted by Santa Fe--Universal’s staging point for location excursions—those same media critics creamed it, and audiences stayed away, as they say, in droves. The movie cost $18 million. It earned about $12 million.

Sound familiar? Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” just did the exact same thing, including the location shooting, the junket, and the lack of  enthusiasm, both printed and public. But it cost $225 million (not including the costs of the marketing blitz). It has made about $50 million. Disney expects to take at least a $100 million write-off, as it did with last year’s “John Carter.” As a result, Mickey Mouse himself will be noticeably leaner in years to come.

The main difference between “John Carter” and “The Lone Ranger,” as I see it, is that “John Carter” was a good movie (though wrongly marketed). “The Lone Ranger,” is, contrariwise, and as I said before, THAT BAD.

It’s 2 1/2 hours of too much. Where to start?

Well, when I first read that Armie Hammer had been cast as the stalwart Ranger, it seemed ideal. But Hammer, who first caught attention as the Winkelvoss twins (!) in “The Social Network” (2010), here is priggish and forced. He seems to think he’s Brendan Fraser.

And what of Johnny Depp, billed also as one of the executive producers? His Tonto looks like Alice Cooper and sounds like Little Big Man…especially in the script’s bizarre framing device, set in 1933 San Francisco as the Golden Gate Bridge is being built in the distance, where he’s a wrinkled old relic on exhibit in a Wild West sideshow. (Just one of the many head-scratcher moments, like the crow hat, which I simply can not discuss. Enough.)

Anyway, the main story is set in post-Northern Aggression 1869, as the Transcontinental Railroad is hammering West, displacing the understandably annoyed original landowners. Which is to say, in this case, the Comanche. The two leads play both sides, back and forth.

This is a hybrid, conjoining the Western comedy (like “The Hallelujah Trail,” 1965) with the reluctant buddy-buddy flick (like “The Defiant Ones,” 1958). Neither half works. The offensively juvenile comedy is geared to the lowest common denominator; the frenemy angle is repetitive, tedious, and anachronistic.

Like “Man of Steel” or “Batman Begins,” it’s an origin story, elaborately told. Except, naturally, that it’s THAT BAD.

The only plus is the panoply of giant vistas, split between Monument Valley and Northern NM, each standing in for Texas, with cinematography of the wide-open spaces worthy of Ford/Hawks--

Hey, this is where we get to live, folks!

--while everything else is a disaster.

This explosion in a money factory was directed by Gore Verbinski, positioning it as a probable new tentpole for Disney, for whom he had erected the hugely profitable “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy.

I recall Lisa and myself leaving the first “Pirates…” ten years ago, talking about what an unexpectedly enjoyable movie we’d just seen, how funny Johnny Depp had been, how goofy and left-of-center it all was, yet how nicely it had delivered on the spectacle side of things.

Not here. This is $225 million profligately spent, the epitome of that old bromide about how moviemaking is merely a lot of expensive machinery whose sole purpose is to put skin on baloney.

I’m vegetarian.

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