REVIEW: “The Lone Ranger”

Lone Ranger poster

“Pirates of the Caribbean” set in the old west. It’s an unavoidable comparison. It’s also a very accurate description of Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer’s “The Lone Ranger”. Johnny Depp again takes center stage and is the ringleader of this wacky and sometimes absurd action adventure. The ingredients are all here. A charismatic and eccentric lead, a fun and action-packed story model, and a filmmaking team who has experienced success before. Maybe that’s why the end result is so disappointing.

As a kid I loved the old television reruns of The Lone Ranger starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. Well let me say that it didn’t take long for me to see the mammoth sized differences between this film and the great original material. I mean to call this film a reimagining would be a gross understatement. There is almost no similarity between these film and the classic story other than the name and some of the basic cosmetics. There is the white hat and white horse. There are silver bullets and the black masks. There are also a few familiar names and familiar plot points. But you’ll be hard pressed to find many other resemblances. Who knows, maybe that’s where the first of the film’s many missteps begins.

Lone Ranger 2

Now I wasn’t expecting this to be an ultra-serious tribute to this classic character. Again this is from the makers of “Pirates of the Caribbean”. But I also didn’t expect it to be so drastically different and so blasted silly. It starts with the Lone Ranger character himself. Armie Hammer seems completely lost at times playing a character who is a bumbling oaf from the first time we see him until the final credits. The character has good intentions but he’s a far cry from the heroic masked administrator of justice I was hoping for. Hammer’s performance doesn’t help. He struggles through a ridiculous and sometimes numbingly lame script that drags him through a plethora of slapstick and oddball humor that admittedly works on occasions. But more often than not it lands with a thud and Hammer just can’t sell it.

The nuttiness isn’t just confined to Hammer and the lead character. Johnny Depp’s Tonto is in many ways a Native American Jack Sparrow. He channels his famed pirate character in a variety of different ways and I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. But he also has his share of ludicrous, over-the-top moments. And that can be said for the entire film. It has several eye-rolling moments that are so insanely absurd that they’re impossible to digest. But it also sharply turns in other directions. “The Lone Ranger” has some jarring tonal issues. One minute horses are standing up in trees wearing cowboy hats and the next has a character cutting out and eating a human heart. The movie is literally all over the map.

But perhaps it’s biggest sin is that it’s just so boring in the middle. It starts with a some promise and there are hints of a good story throughout the picture. But soon the film bogs down in a mire of drab and pointless plot. There’s an underwritten and poorly serviced romance. There are throwaway characters such as Helena Bonham Carter’s ivory-legged brothel head whose story would better serve on the cutting room floor. Then there is the film’s general snail paced way of telling the main story. It takes way too long and it becomes a test of endurance just to make it through the arduous 2 hours and 30 minute running time.

Lone ranger 1

But I have to say that the big finale saves the film from being a total disaster. The huge set piece is quite the spectacle and I remember perking up the moment that the William Tell Overture suddenly kicked in. The ending almost feels like its own little short film. It doesn’t feel anything like a Lone Ranger sequence and there isn’t a semblance of realism to be found. But it is insanely entertaining if you can accept its cartoonish and exaggerated approach and go with it. For me it was easily the best part of the film even with its absurdities.

There are some beautiful locations and some of the action is really good. There are moments where the wacky humor works very well. I also enjoyed seeing an assortment of my favorite supporting actors (William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper, and James Badge Dale) even if their roles aren’t particularly well written. But in the end “The Lone Ranger” loses itself in its overbearing insanity and bloated, uneven plot. It never feels like a western and it never knows when to end. What really stinks is that this could’ve been a really good summer movie. Instead it’s $250 million dollars worth of mediocrity and a waste of some really good talent. I may be wrong but I would think Disney would want more from such an investment.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

REVIEW: “Snitch”

Snitch poster

Wrestler turned action movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson must be going for the record for movies made in a short period of time. Case in point, in 2013 alone he’s appeared in 5 different films. One of those is “Snitch”, a surprisingly competent crime thriller that takes a pretty simple story and soaks it with more tension and high stakes than you would ever expect. It’s also not afraid to throw a few jabs at America’s federal drug policy.

“Snitch” is one of those ‘inspired by a true story’ flicks which makes its borderline absurdity all the more digestible. Johnson certainly isn’t the most seasoned of actors but he does a nice job playing John Matthews, the owner of a small construction company who one day gets a call from his ex-wife that his son Jason (Rafi Gavron) has been arrested on federal drug charges. Knowing his son isn’t a drug trafficker, John seeks help from a federal attorney named Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) whose upcoming reelection has her looking for some good press. She’s also the only one who can reduce Jason’s sentence.

But Joanne isn’t all that interested in helping so John takes it upon himself to secretly find and snitch on some drug dealersin exchange for his son’s freedom. Jon Bernthal, perhaps best known for his role on the popular cable series “The Walking Dead”, plays an ex-con employee of John’s who may have the needed underworld connections. We also get Barry Pepper, an actor I’ve always liked, as an undercover DEA agent named Cooper. And another actor I like, Benjamin Bratt, finds his way back to the big screen playing a cartel boss and big time drug runner. John quickly finds himself in over his head and becomes a pawn of both the government and the cartel.

Snitch

The Rock certainly has the build of a super tough guy and at times he looks like he could body slam whoever he’s talking to. But I liked that the movie never falls into that trap. His character is just a construction guy. No secret hitman or military special forces past. He’s just a regular guy and the story stays away from the whole ‘one man army’ thing. For me that worked very well and offered a much more interesting dynamic. Again, at times Johnson does show his limitations as an actor but it’s a performance that definitely works. And obviously he’s helped by the really nice supporting cast around him.

The movie is filled with moral quandaries, questionable ethics, and mixed messages. Much of that works to the film’s advantage. Everything isn’t all nice and tidy and it shouldn’t be. Yet while all of this works nicely there’s still little that sets the film apart. It certainly dabbles in several new and intriguing areas but its hard for me to get excited about seeing it again. And ultimately that’s where I stand on “Snitch” – a surprisingly slick and intense thriller but one with very little staying power. But still, compared to a number of movies pumped out this year, it’s an entertaining film that stays within its bounds of limitations.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

“FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS” – 3 1/2 STARS

If you looked at a list of movies made about World War 2 it would probably stun you. Hundreds of films have been made worldwide that have examined and portrayed the global conflict from a variety of different perspectives. Many have focused on the combat, particular battles, or even well-known officers. Others have looked at different aspects of the war including the horrors of the Holocaust and the resistance movements that rose against the Nazi aggression. In 2006 director Clint Eastwood released “Flags of our Fathers” and it’s sequel/companion piece “Letters from Iwo Jima”. It was an ambitious undertaking as both films attempted to look at the brutal and bloody battle of Iwo Jima, one through the eyes of the Americans and the other through the eyes of the Japanese.

“Flags of Our Fathers” was adapted from the James Bradley and Ron Powers book of the same name. It’s story centers around the six soldiers who raised the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi. The flag raising was captured on camera on February 23, 1945 by Pulitzer Prize winner Joe Rosenthal and is considered by many to be one of recognized photographs from the war. The story is told through a series of flashbacks that are at first tough to navigate though. Eastwood sets up the battle of Iwo Jima and introduces us to the main characters early on. We see the landing, scenes involving the intense and rugged fighting, and the eventual flag raising.

But it’s all being told through the flashbacks of three of the soldiers who raised the flag, Navy Corpsman John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillipe), Private Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and Private Ira Hayes (Adam Beach).  After the photograph is released in the states, the three are called back to participate in a war bond tour to raise much-needed money for the war effort. But what’s being promoted isn’t exactly how things happened and the soldiers have a hard time reconciling the importance of the war bond campaign with their painful memories of the bloody battle they took part in.

Staying with Eastwood’s film can be a bit challenging and I found it at times be a little clunky in its transitions from the stateside scenes to the battlefield flashbacks. But that’s not saying the story is bad. It packs a lot of emotion and sincerity and Eastwood clearly wants to tell the stories of not just the soldiers at war but the people back home as well. He nicely portrays the battlefield camaraderie that goes well beyond the trenches and he also puts great effort and detail into presenting the United States and it’s mood during that pressing time. Everything looks and feels just right. The problem is that the attempt at clever storytelling does more to hurt the flow of the movie than to help it.

I was also a little mixed on Eastwood’s battle scenes. The visuals are at their best during the wide shots of the battlefield or the Naval fleet around the island. There are also a few really cool scenes involving airplanes attacking Japanese hillside fortifications. But the ground combat seemed to be missing something. There certainly are moments of intensity but as a whole things looked plain and with the exception of a few standout scenes, the combat feels a bit repetitive. I’ve thought that maybe I’ve seen too many war films and maybe the combat in movies doesn’t pack the same punch that it used to. But I don’t think that’s the case here. Eastwood is trying to create the same atmosphere that those soldiers faced back in 1945 but it’s the actors that relay that more than the visuals.

The performances are strong and the big cast of quality actors add a lot to the film. Phillippe is really good both on the battlefield and during that stateside scenes. I also enjoyed Beach’s performance as the Native American soldier who fighting more than just one war. There are several other good performances from the likes of John Slattery, Barry Pepper, and Neal McDonough.

“Flags of Our Fathers” ends with a poignant reminder of just how much this war effected our country and our people. In many ways it’s the final 15 or 20 minutes that helped bring everything together for me. I was really mixed during several parts of the film but after seeing it through, I get a better idea of what Eastwood is conveying. It’s a story of patriotism, sacrifice, and brotherhood. But it’s also a film about desperation, vulnerability, and exploitation. It does become a little melodramatic but never to the point of drowning the film. Instead the bigger problems centered around the movie’s structure and it’s so-so combat scenes. But I still find “Flags of Our Fathers” as an easy movie to recommend and it certainly looks at the war with sincerity and care.