The ineptitude on display throughout The Lone Ranger is best summed up by one of the film's most jarring mood swings. Out on a mission with his Texas Ranger brother (James Badge Dale), by-the-books district attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer) gets a bit more than he bargained for: a gang of rogue outlaws, led by the disfigured sadist Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), ambush the Reids and their fellow rangers, firing bullets into people, into horses, leaving no breathing man untouched. The sequence's brutality isn't right for a Disney summer blockbuster—it's Unforgiven, but meaner somehow. John's brother, Dan, is on his last breath when Cavendish stands above him, ready to get his vengeance for Dan's sending him to jail, snarling, "Take somethin' from me, I take somethin' from you." He then cuts Dan's heart out with a crazy long machete. Johnny, what's that about?
Well said. That's exactly what the dying John Reid must be thinking as he watches his brother die. But again, The Lone Ranger is a Disney movie with accompanying action figures. More appropriately, the vibe turns back to straight-up goofy once Tonto (Johnny Depp) shows up to inspect the wreckage. With a special white horse standing by, Tonto buries the bodies; the horse, able to recognize "spirit walkers" (people who die, have vision flashes, and then come back to life), pinpoints John Reid as the cadaver ready to reawaken. After a silly back-and-forth between Tonto and his friend (that would be the horse), the Comanche Indian ties John's body to the horse and they drag John along the rocky desert terrain, to where he'll be resurrected as The Lone Ranger.
The horse stops to drop some green turds. As they all move forward, John's lifeless body rolls right over the poop. You're supposed to laugh—assuming you're able to forget about that image of Cavendish ripping Dan Reid's heart out. Or maybe if the shitty punchline was actually funny. It's not. It's a big misfire, a juvenile sight gag ending a horrific murder. Any thoughts on that, Johnny?
The feeling is mutual. At a bloated 140 minutes, The Lone Ranger is a smorgasbord of fail. Surrounding the aforementioned death-into-shit transition are several other uncomfortably paired moments, the byproducts of a messy script credited to three screenwriters that's trying to be many things but can't accomplish any of them. Near the film's end, there's a huge battle sequence in which swarms of Comanche Indians charge upon white soldiers armed with muskets, rifles, and cannons. People get shot to death, hatchets get stuck in chests. The body count is high. The melodramatic score, punctuating every gunshot and lost life, suggests an homage to the excellent 1989 Civil War film Glory, namely its final battle at Fort Wagner.
Then, moments later, there's John Reid/The Lone Ranger's horse, Silver, standing on a tree branch, being all comic relief-y, prompting Tonto to say, "Something wrong with that horse." Yet again, it's not funny, but, rather, ill-timed and lazy.
While reading the script, Johnny, you must have stopped and said to yourself, "Boy, these jokes and gags are horribly placed." No? You've been in funny movies before, and you've also been in powerful dramas—didn't you realize everything that's wrong with The Lone Ranger?
Oh, really? One of the movie's problems is that you seem to care too much—as in, the overacting is distracting. Which, to your credit, is an accomplishment in and of itself, since Tonto delivers everything with forcible restraint, the lines delivered wide-eyed and monotone. It's the worst performance of your career, simultaneously familiar for anyone who's seen a single Pirates of the Caribbean installment and desperately "playful," as if you're trying too damn hard to make the kiddies in the audience giggle. The first time you played Captain Jack Sparrow, that self-aware zaniness was entertaining, even justifiably Oscar-worthy. Now, after you've slogged through similar turns as Willy Wonka, the Mad Hatter, and Barnabas Collins, it's played out. An unfortunate reminder of what you once were.
Do you hear yourself? You've got a point. The Lone Ranger needed the Johnny Depp of old, the reliable charmer who could carry any movie on his chameleon-like shoulders. Your co-star, young pretty boy Armie Hammer, is no leading man. A fine supporting player, sure, as seen in The Social Network and, to a much lesser degree, J. Edgar, but no headliner. As the titular Lone Ranger, he's out of his element—he's a comically ungifted actor tasked with selling a multitude of wink-wink facial gestures and hammy hero dialogue better suited for someone like Nathan Fillion. Together, you're not the new-age Odd Couple—you're as mismatched and without chemistry as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
OK, maybe that was a bit harsh, but please recognize that this comes from a place of tortured fandom. The most underrated gangster movie out there? Donnie Brasco, for sure. One of the best performances of the '90s that no one talks about? Your work as Edward D. Wood, Jr., awful director extraordinaire, in Tim Burton's slept-on Ed Wood. When it's time to cozy up next to wifey for an in-bedroom movie night? Chocolat is always a top option. Your most recent films, though? Save for Rango (2011) and that brief, memorable cameo in last year's 21 Jump Street, your last few movies have sucked, ranging from unfunny (The Rum Diary) to epically boring (The Tourist).
That's good to know. Lately, it's felt like you're more concerned with making easy bucks than challenging yourself as an actor. Remember back in May 2011, when our disappointment over Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides inspired the nickname "Captain Wack"? When we offered ten suggestions to help you regain that beloved J-Depp swagger?
Salty, much? Goes both ways. Keep making dreck like The Lone Ranger and I'll be saying the same.
Which is why we look to our favorite movie stars and filmmakers to provide us with great forms of escapism. There was a time when guys like you and Will Smith could be counted on to do just that. Flash back to 2001—you were killing it as cocaine trafficker George Jung in Blow, and Big Willie Style was wowing the Academy by embodying the greatness of Muhammad Ali in Michael Mann's thrilling biopic Ali. Today, he's phoning it in with laughably bad Scientology propaganda—feel good knowing that The Lone Ranger is a Christopher Nolan production compared to After Earth. That doesn't excuse it, though.
It happens to the best talents in Hollywood, old friend. Just look at recent movies made by once-stellar directors like George A. Romero and John Carpenter. Voiceover G.O.D. Morgan Freeman inexplicably narrated the opening of 2011's terrible Conan the Barbarian remake. Robert De Niro and John Travolta have a schlocky action movie called Killing Season coming out this month that looks straight-to-DVD but will open in theaters for all to ignore. Many of the industry's great degrade as the years go by, but here's the thing, Johnny: You're only 50. (OK, that's a little old.)
Still, there's plenty of time to carefully pick roles that are ambitious in ways you've never tried before. Like Black Mass, the movie in which you'd play legendary Boston mobster Whitey Bulger for director Barry Levinson. Sounds pretty badass.
Damn, man. Do you have anything to say for yourself?
That's what I was afraid of.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)