Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Overlooked Films: THE LONE RANGER (2003)

Among Ranger aficiandos, this 2003 Made-for-WB movie is an even greater stench in the nostrils than the 1981 disaster starring Klinton Spilsbury. Until recently, that was my feeling, too. But, having re-viewed both films recently, I must revise my opinion. Here it is: I now believe this film is not a bit worse than The Legend of the Lone Ranger, and might even be a hair less bad.

Much of this movie’s inherent badness is due to the concept. The folks at the WB tried to retool the Ranger story to appeal to their teen and twenty-something audience. As a result, both young Tonto and the young Ranger are sometimes-angst-ridden, sometimes-smart-alecky twenty-somethings with a lot of growing up to do. The cast includes a hot young blonde as the newspaper editor, a hot young brunette as Tonto’s sister, and a hot young in-between as the widow of the Ranger’s brother. And there’s an eighties-rock soundtrack, totally inappropriate to the time or the setting. But once you get past all this kowtowing to youth (abhorrent as it may be), parts of the film can be mildly entertaining.

The future Ranger, in this incarnation named Luke Hartman, is played by Chad Michael Murphy, the veteran of such WB classics as Dawson’s Creek and The Gilmore Girls (two shows I've never seen), and went on to a ten-year career on the WB’s One Tree Hill (another show I’ve never seen, and plan to keep it that way).

Tonto is played by Nathaniel Arcand, who in recent years has been a regular on such unwatched Canadian TV series as Blackstone, Heartland and Arctic Air.

The only other actor of note (perhaps the only real actor in the film) is Wes Studi, who has made a career of playing convincing Indians, partly because he’s a genuine Cherokee. He appeared in Dances with Wolves and The Last of the Mohicans, in a couple of the mini-series spin-offs of Lonesome Dove, and starred as Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn in TV movies.

One of the dumbest parts comes at the beginning, on the first meeting of Tonto and the future Ranger. T’s hot sister is being harassed by a gang of snot-nosed ruffians, and our hero, newly arrived from the East, rushes to her defense. But because he’s totally inept at fighting, he must be rescued by Tonto, who (and here’s the dumbest part) enters the scene with a flying Kung Fu kick right out of Enter the Dragon. There’s a little bit of a payoff later, when the Ranger performs the same stunt, but it’s still plenty dumb.

The story then gets more familiar. Luke is reunited with his Texas Ranger brother just long enough to ride off with his 12-man troop in pursuit of the bad guys. The bad guys here are not the Cavendish Gang, but an evil bunch called the Regulators, who are trying to force farmers off their lands to clear the way for the railroad.

The Regulators slaughter the Rangers, leaving Luke for dead, and his Faithful Kung Fu Master Tonto finds him and nurses him back to health. After that, much film time is consumed by Tonto training Luke in the ways of the West (read Force), with the help of his own spiritual advisor (Wes Studi). Yep, there’s a lot of Star Wars influence here. “Luke” even has a Mark Hamill hairdo.

Along the way, Luke is given something peyote-like and sent on a vision quest, where he trips out and meets his spirit guide - a white horse he names Silver. And we’re treated to a hot tub (well, hot springs) scene with Luke and the hot sister.

All of this is no worse than it sounds up until the point Tonto deems Luke ready to don the mask. That’s where the film goes to hell. The mask, which Tonto tells him will give his enemies nightmares, is more likely to leave them laughing. Murray was 22 at the time, but looks about 18. In the role of a skinny teenage nobody, he’s everything he needs to be. But in the Ranger’s hat and mask, he looks so wimpy it’s ridiculous. He comes across like some little kid’s big brother taking the squirt out for trick-or-treat. When he rides into action with a rock-laced William Tell Overture thumping in the background, it’s just silly.

It’s clear the WB had hopes of turning this into a series, and if they’d picked the right Ranger they might have had a shot. As it was, this film was just a minor bad smell between the major league stinkers of 1981 and 2013.

This is the sixth (and last) in our reviews of old Lone Ranger films. You'll find the first five HERE.

More and better Overlooked Films at SWEET FREEDOM.


Cap'n Bob said...

I managed to see a few minutes of this before running from the room.

Evan Lewis said...

Gird your loins for the rest, Cap'n, because I'm loaning you the tape.

Todd Mason said...

Pity there seems to be such a shortage of stills of the women in the cast...reads as if that might've been a minor saving grace...

Unknown said...

I enjoy almost all of The Lone Ranger's incarnations.
This? No, just No.
Hi-Yo-Take This Away!
Can't help but think you're being more than generious with this review.