The Lone Ranger: WTF happened to Johnny Depp's career?
Obviously "redface" is nothing new in Hollywood. It was frequently deployed in the pre-PC era, as when a white actor played a heroic Native American figure — think Chuck Connors in 1962's Geronimo. But shouldn't we have transcended that by now? You'd never see blackface in a film unless it was being used to make a character look ridiculous (2008's Tropic Thunder), or to make a satirical point, as with 2000's Bamboozled. Somewhere, Kevin Costner is clutching his Oscars for 1990 post-Western Dances With Wolves — more or less cinema's biggest mea culpa for all those "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" yarns of the John Wayne era — and weeping.
Tonto isn't the only Native American character in The Lone Ranger. But the others (none of whom are given names, unless someone was called "set dressing" or "background actor" and I missed it) have a slightly sharper aura of authenticity than Depp, who spends the whole movie caked in either old-age make-up or campy face paint. They are mere plot devices, there to give contemporary audiences a reason to feel outraged when an evil railroad baron lays his tracks through their land and raids their silver mine. "Our time has passed," an elderly Indian character tells the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer, whose role literally consists of riding a horse and reacting to Depp's scenery-chewing buffoonery). "We are already ghosts."
But back up, kemo sabe. Racism may be The Lone Ranger's worst problem, but it's not the film's only problem. There's also its bloated length (nearly three hours); its score, which dares to introduce an Ennio Morricone homage into a film Sergio Leone wouldn't line his gatto's litter box with; its waste of some great character actors (Barry Pepper, William Fichtner); its assumption that having random characters ask the Lone Ranger "What's with the mask?" over and over is the funniest joke ever; and its failure to follow through on its few inventive elements — that herd of Monty Python-inspired rabbits, for example.
And another thing: if the moral of The Lone Ranger — spelled out with all the delicate subtlety of a fiery train crash — is "greed is bad," why did El Deppo sign onto this piece of crap in the first place? *
THE LONE RANGER opens Wed/3 in Bay Area theaters.