In a big screen adaptation of the classic TV series, Armie Hammer plays the Lone Ranger and Johnny Depp plays his friend Tonto, a Native American stereotype.
The stereotyping of Tonto is of a sort you don’t often see in Hollywood these days. Not since Marlon Brando controversially dressed up as an Apache to claim his Oscar for the Godfather. I’m not against stereotypes in films – they can be funny – but they should probably be played by someone of that group. Having a white actor play a Native American is rather uncomfortable.
But this isn’t the only reason Depp is miscast. Putting him in a role as a man of few words, and even less personality, with his face buried in make-up, isn’t the best way to exploit his skills. He tries to play up his physical performance with some of Jack Sparrow’s mannerisms but it doesn’t work.
But the reason for Depp’s casting is clear: with the same producer, director and composer of Pirates of the Caribbean, surely using Depp as well guarantees success. But the main character here is the Ranger, played by unknown Armie Hammer. He’s adequate, but they would have been better off casting a well known star in the central role and having a lesser known Tonto, both for commercial and creative reasons.
Like other films we’ve reviewed as part of this series, this isn’t the worst film ever but it does have problems. It’s bloated in length, unnecessairly told in flashback by an ageing Tonto, bizarrely now working as an exhibit in a museum. It’s also rather bland and lacking in the humour that made the first Pirates of the Caribbean so successful. But it’s fairly well made and the action finale is excellent.
The problem is assuming that getting all the same people as another hit film and throwing money at the production means a guaranteed hit, even if they’re not the right people for the job. It assumes that any combination of a set of factors will make money, when what results is less than the sum of its parts.