Humphrey Bogart once said: “The industry hurts itself by making so many lousy movies—as if General Motors deliberately put out a bad car.” Bogart did not try to defend his own contribution to slipshod productions: “I have made more lousy movies than actor in history.” That statement was a slight exaggeration, but at least Bogart did not go the route of Johnny Depp’s recent insinuation that there is a critical conspiracy to see The Lone Ranger (2013) fail. For the producers’ sake Depp should indeed promote such an expensive endeavor, even if he himself does not like the finished product. However, Depp’s aggressive defense against the overwhelming critical consensus is an incredulous and depressing parody by an artist long dead.

Depp was indeed an artist once, careful about the roles he appeared in. His body of work revealed an actor whose choices were guided by love of challenge and exploration, as opposed to box office appeal. His collaboration with the young  seemed an ideal pairing of two pop revolutionaries. Unfortunately, that ideal climaxed with Ed Wood (1994). Since then, both Burton and Depp have come to personify the Hollywood Sell-Out. Both were ruined by their work with the imposter company now claiming to be Disney Studios. Depp, it seems, can no longer distinguish a good script from a bad script; or, most likely, he no longer cares. He has gone the opposite route of an actor like Burt Lancaster. Once Lancaster achieved a degree of mainstream success, he began to seek out roles that transformed his late body of work into something approaching incandescence. In sharp contrast, Depp has become increasingly vapid. Tellingly, Depp’s “other” big collaboration is with a Disney director (Gore Verbinski) who birthed an entire franchise from a theme park ride. For the studio, that is a steep decline from classics as innovative as Pinocchio (1940), artistically risky as Fantasia (1940), or as exquisitely organic as Dumbo (1941). For Depp, this amounts to the polyurethane varnish on the caricature he has become. In place of Edward Scissorhands, Gilbert Grape, Ed Wood, Don Juan, William Blake, Raoul Duke or Cesar, we are witness to a fossilized Depp encased in his own career avarice. While he has certainly surpassed his monetary goals, that success will prove to be the derailing of a once admirable oeuvre. Depp’s fan base, naturally, remains in denial.

The Lone Ranger (2013) is yet another example of cinematic postmodern arrogance. Of course, we need not put a B level pulp character that was probably most interesting during the days of radio on a pedestal. A few of the Clayton Moore/Jay Silverheels movies and TV shows were moderately entertaining, albeit as products of their time. Yet, Verbinski, Depp and the film’s plethora of screenwriters serve up a thoroughly unentertaining mess. Erroneously thinking themselves clever and hip deconstructionists of naïve filmmakers past, their idea of entertainment amounts to an early heart-eating scene, and the protagonist being dragged through a pile of horse excrement. Amazingly, it goes downhill from there.

Still from The Lone Ranger (2013)True to postmodern tenets, the film borrows from virtually everything and never finds its own identity. It makes the classic “haven’t we learned yet?” mistake of casting a white man in the role of a Native American. It’s akin to Al Jolson slapping on blackface. Predictably, the filmmakers take the PC route of making the white man look dumb, while a white man is passing for an Indian. This is merely one of the movie’s numerous hypocrisies.

The movie weaves Anti-American sentiment throughout, manifested in the portrayal of silver-hoarding executives of the train company. It could have played out as a well-deserved sentiment if the film itself had not echoed the gluttonous white shareholders. Dumbed-down crude jokes and loud explosions saturate the excessive second half.

Oh, and I did forget to mention Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger himself? That’s rather easy to do, since he has no charisma. Worse, he has no chemistry with Depp’s Tonto. Predictably, Tonto is the main character, which is problematic when he is nothing more than an eccentric buffoon. Alas, there is not a single, likable character. The Lone Ranger himself is reduced to a clueless representative of naïve patriotism, shorn of morals (he only saves Tonto’s life because he needs the Indian’s assistance). His “creed” is a law book, which he attempts to adhere to in the face of surrounding ignorant religiosity (Western Christianity and Native American spirituality are treated with equal contempt).  (Mrs. Tim Burton) shows up for a cameo, which should have been (and is) a bad omen. She is a whore with a gun hidden in a peg leg, but still manages to make the character dull. Only the horse, Silver, has an iota of personality, but even he is not spared belching jokes.

By the time we hear Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” we are too numb and too tired to care. The movie opens and ends (2 and a half hours later!) with a Little Big Man (1970) rip-off. It was the first and last item from the kitchen sink.

In my review of Man of Steel (2013) I referred to that movie as postmodernism at its worst. I stand corrected.


  1. The Lone Ranger may indeed be awful, I am prepared to accept the critics’ consensus on that one but to dismiss Depp’s post Ed Wood output as a “sell out” is derisory, silly and also insulting to all the serious movie fans who have enjoyed several of his movies in the years since his careers “climax”. Such broad stroke savaging comes across as lazy writing. Admittedly he had made a lot of commercial garbage but are Public Enemies, the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and Rum Diary examples of your “polyurethane varnish” and vapidity. He is also in the next Wes Anderson movie by the way.

  2. re: ” but are Public Enemies, the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and Rum Diary examples of your “polyurethane varnish” and vapidity? ” Yes, they are.

    Admittedly, I find the words “serious”and “fan” (paired together) to be an epic oxymoron.

    That said, I do hope and expect to see Depp rebound (Brando certainly returned after losing his way for over a decade). Regardless, thanks.

  3. This blog has hitherto unsuspected influence! Johnny Depp gives up acting! Soon. Well, soon-ish. Probably.

    Doubtless we can shortly expect Disney to announce that they’re giving up all this Star Wars and Avengers nonsense and rewinding the clock seven decades because everything was better in 1941 (except Hitler). With a bit of luck we might even get a remake of The Song Of The South, which obviously can’t have been racist because the actor playing Uncle Tom was a proper black guy, not Johnny Depp’s grandpa blacked up.

    Sorry Alfred, but nostalgia isn’t always the answer to everything! Indeed, if Hollywood executives didn’t constantly persuade themselves that, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, TV shows they thought were really cool when they were 10 will do equally well as blockbuster movies in the 21st century, the woefully ill-advised film you’ve just execrated wouldn’t exist.

  4. Otto, I agree nostalgia isn’t everything. I find the whole scavenger picking of past narratives, TV shows, comic books to be a blatant sign of artistic bankruptcy. I recall writing (in 1979!) that “Dracula” was a very, very old story that had run its course. Most of these shows (i.e. Dark Shadows) only worked as products of their time. The Lone Ranger is another example of something contained within a time capsule. I think it only really worked in radio. For the most part, the television show was wretched. Astoundingly, the movie was even worse. As you say: “executives ignore mounting evidence to the contrary.”

    I did take time to look up Depp’s projects on IMDB. Pirates 5 and Alice in Wonderland 2 are on the plate. I rest my case and am reminded of Pauline Kael’s prediction that “the blockbuster’ was going to be the death of cinema as an art form.

    It is remarkable that, for being a very young art form, Cinema has degenerated so quickly. It primarily had two stand out decades of innovativeness and experimentation: it’s dawn and the 1960s, which is why, in my attempt at creating a kind of idiosyncratic encyclopedia on this site, I include numerous films during those peak periods. Naturally, that’s a tad bit of an over-generalization on my part, but I think producers would benefit in looking at the more innovative approaches to the medium, as opposed to their frequent habit of merely being pedestrian repeaters of previous story-telling.

    I recently was shown Tim Brayton’s review of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, in which Brayton said he did not know, “if it is a great Batman movie, but it is a great Tim Burton movie.” I agree with that assessment and if producers feel they have to tap the resources of vintage pulp, at least they could allow the writers and directors freedom to try to make a great movie, regardless of fandom expectations.

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