THE LONE RANGER. Johnny Depp used to be one of the most charming and versatile actors in Hollywood. Nowadays he'll occasionally show up in something interesting (Public Enemies, The Rum Diary). But even these late-period highlights demanded little more than his rakish charm and tried-and-true oddball swagger.
Instead of stretching his range he's tied his fortunes to directors Tim Burton and Gore Verbinski. The former partnership produced a couple of lasting, distinctive, dare I say classic movies in the 1990s, but their shared output has since become a case study in diminishing returns. With Verbinski, it appears that Depp has decided to forgo acting altogether in favor of caricature and gigantic paychecks.
Their Pirates of the Caribbean movies (the first three in the franchise) were a profit landslide, even if each was bigger, louder and harder to watch than the last. (Number five is in the works.) More recently they reteamed to make Rango (2011), which I found unpleasant, derivative and not very funny. Most everybody else disagreed, apparently: It made a tidy fortune at the box office and then somehow won the Oscar for best animated feature.
The Lone Ranger, their latest collaboration, stumbles out of the gate and never recovers. While not entirely without positive attributes, it cranks up the stuff I didn't like about Rango to an excruciating level, and sustains it almost interminably.
Armie Hammer plays our protagonist as a bumbling do-right buffoon, and his transition into accidental hero feels implausible and forced. Depp's portrayal of Tonto (which some have called racist) isn't particularly fresh or revelatory. In fact, it borrows liberally from his early physical comedy roles. That said, Depp remains compulsively watchable, and he carries the whole noisy, unpleasant affair squarely on his shoulders. Whenever the narrative shifts away from Tonto, or even when he moves out of frame, the level of watchability dips dangerously.
As with Pirates, the scale and quality of the production design are hard to knock. There are wide, sweeping shots aplenty, filled with impeccable Old West sets and costumes. The stunt players and horsemen really get to showcase their skills. The supporting cast, especially William Fichtner, Helena Bonham Carter and Barry Pepper, give fun, appropriately outsize performances.
But the high level of design and detail serves a dubious purpose. The Old West, as Verbinski imagines it, is a filthy, violent nightmare filled with coarse grotesques. Life is devalued currency, with death doled out indiscriminately. Yet this is a family movie, so the repercussions of that violence are never addressed. The body count just keeps rising without even a nod to what it really means, or how horrible it really is.
Apologists will likely call Verbinski's style visual "homage," but to me it looks more like wholesale thievery. As in Rango, he cops immediately recognizable motifs and even specific shots from too many classic Westerns to list here. Maybe most grievous and unpleasant of these thefts is the framing story, wherein Depp wears old-age makeup and tells his story to a kid in a Lone Ranger costume.
There are moments of attractiveness, humor and excitement scattered throughout The Lone Ranger, but against its bloated 2 1/2-hour running time they can only do so much. And they certainly can't make up for the nasty, predictable narrative in this cacophonous disarray of a movie. PG13. 149m.
DESPICABLE ME 2. Right out front I'll admit that I never saw Despicable Me. Despite that handicap, I truly enjoyed the sequel.
The story reconnects us with Gru (Steve Carell), a reformed super-villain and adoptive father of three girls. He's no longer committed to wreaking global havoc, having settled into a life of domestic bliss. But in no time he's enlisted by the Anti-Villain League as their own Hannibal Lecter: They'll use a criminal mastermind to capture a criminal mastermind. This sets off a whirlwind adventure that reaches back into Gru's distant past and sparks a potential romance with AVL operative Lucy (Kristen Wiig).
DM2 has a distinctive, pretty visual style, compelling vocal performances and a quick-paced, clever plot. Perhaps most importantly, the comedy here works for kids and adults. Not every joke lands, but that's easily forgiven because the filmmakers don't take the "winking at the parents" shortcut to humor. Instead, the writers focused on delivering solid jokes that don't rely on age bias or dark sarcasm. They're just genuinely funny and produce a movie that everybody in the family can enjoy on the same level. PG. 98m.
— John J. Bennett
PACIFIC RIM. This homage/update to Godzilla-style monster movies comes from visionary Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) and stars Idris Elba (Stringer Bell on "The Wire"). In other words, sign me up! When legions of giant creatures emerge from the ocean and start some shit, humanity builds giant robots to fight them. My inner child is giddy at the prospect. PG13. 131m.
GROWN UPS 2. Dennis Dugan is one of America's most consistent filmmakers — consistently shitty, that is. His directing resume includes 14 films, starting with 1990's Problem Child (which earned an abysmal 4 percent rating on RottenTomatoes.com) and continuing through 2011's Jack & Jill (even more reviled at 3 percent). Grown Ups, the lowbrow 2011 comedy starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade, was also crap, but it made loads of money. Hence: sequel. Sigh. PG13. 101m.
TURBO. Opening next Wednesday, with a preview screening in Fortuna Tuesday night, the latest from Dreamworks Animation imagines a garden snail who longs to be fast. Voice talent from Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti and Michael Peña. PG.
This month's Ocean Night at the Arcata Theatre Lounge offers a double feature: environmental action doc Rock the Boat, which follows activists down the concrete-captured L.A. River, and surf flick The Heart & the Sea, which follows surfers on waves. 6:30 p.m. At 6 p.m. Sunday, Woody and Buzz are back in Toy Story 2 (1999). G. 92m. And next Wednesday's feature for Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night is the 1967 German-Yugoslav creeper The Horrors of Spider Island. Doors at 6 p.m.
THE HEAT. Sandra Bullock, as an overachieving FBI agent, and Melissa McCarthy, as a brash, foul-mouthed Boston cop, fight crime in this comedy from the director of Bridesmaids. R. 117m.
MAN OF STEEL. Did the world need another Superman reboot? Probably not. And definitely not one so abrasive and dull. PG13. 140m.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. Pixar's prequel to Monsters, Inc. finds Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) in scare school. G. 104m.
WHITE HOUSE DOWN. Channing Tatum does his John McClane impression as a Capitol cop out to rescue the president (Jamie Foxx) from armed nogoodniks. PG13. 131m.
WORLD WAR Z. The global zombie outbreak forgot about one thing: Brad freakin' Pitt. PG13. 116m.
— Ryan Burns