Terrible Aim

As a kid, I was completely taken by the Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto. In the early '50s, I listened to the radio serial, which began in 1933 and ran for some 21 years, followed by the TV series, which started in 1949 and ended in 1957. It was all glorious.

Here's the backstory, which my friends and I endlessly discussed: The year is 1869. A posse of Texas Rangers, to include John Reid, is ambushed in a box canyon by a gang of outlaws. Reid was the only survivor. Grievously wounded, he was found by an Indian, Tonto, who nursed him back to health. Together, they decide that for Reid's safety (the killers still were out there), he should be anonymous, hence the mask.

On television, Reid's face was never shown. He was always the masked man. Anonymous and mysterious. The stuff of legend. And what a legend it was, embraced by a generation of boys (and likely some girls) who had only to hear Rossini's "William Tell Overture" to raise goosebumps.

In many ways, the Lone Ranger was as much a superhero as were Superman or Batman, who also fought for truth and justice and the American way. And like them he was always in disguise, his secret identity an integral part of his persona, the man with the obscure past and a cache of silver bullets. He was irresistible.

It is surprising that Disney and its stable of writers did not quickly discover that you cannot make a contemporary and credible film about a masked man who has an Indian sidekick, no matter how much money and special effects/CGI are at your disposal, unless you are prepared to be serious and subtle and artful about a narrative sans shtick.

Case in point is the newly released "The Lone Ranger," which, sadly, is a train wreck. First the filmmakers can't decide who the audience is — kids or adults? So they try and split the difference. Johnny Depp plays Tonto in white face (a nice reversal), an eccentric, campy Native American with a dead bird on his head, his Indian-pidgin English masking his intelligence. But what worked in "The Pirates of the Caribbean," wherein he created a charming, idiosyncratic Captain Jack Sparrow, doesn't work in this movie. Depp can't seem to avoid becoming a mugging caricature.

And for reasons known only to the studio, Armie Hammer portrays Reid as a dim-witted, naïve, pacifist Easterner, no matter how despicable and villainous the bad guys are, example being Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), who eats a man's heart with graphic relish.

What the studio forgot was that "The Lone Ranger" of yesteryear is actually a compelling and serious kids' adventure story about a masked man who, with his trusted sidekick, tried always to do the right thing and, of course, always prevailed. Whether that's translatable to the sensibilities of today's audience is a $250 million gamble.

"The Heat"

When Hollywood does buddy-roadie films, it's usually not "Thelma and Louise." It's Jamie Foxx and Tatum Channing in "White House Down."

Surprisingly, "The Heat" pairs two solid actresses who clearly relish playing the odd couple (recall Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau): fastidious, rigid, career-minded FBI agent, Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) and over-the-top, grungy Boston police detective, Shannon Mullin (Melissa McCarthy). It's a combination made for comedy.

And indeed the film does have laugh-out-loud moments. Regarding the plot? Not to worry. It's a thin rationale that sends Ashburn to Boston to find a reputed drug lord; however, her core mission is quickly forgotten, traded in for a plethora of brief vignettes that are stacked one on top of the other like so many Legos.

Are these set-ups funny? Many are. But they also become a bit tiresome, as Mullin is perpetually foul-mouthed (there are a reported 180 imaginative uses of the "F" word), coarse, vulgar, abrasive, crude and simultaneously charming and genuinely likable.

Ashburn spends most of her time looking like an IRS accountant and is perpetually appalled. The perfect foil for Mullins' no inhibitions, say whatever comes into your head, out of control, street-smart cop.

They're oil and water, frenemies from the start. Of course, they warm to each other when forced to share the same squad car.

So this all begs the question: is "The Heat" worth the price of a ticket? Well, yes and no. You will be entertained. You will laugh. You might be appalled. You decide.

— Chris Honoré

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