When a film grosses a billion dollars, it’s bound to leave a mark on its maker. And when a crap sequel, one of those titles you don’t so much want to see as want to have seen, pulls in that kind of loot, reactions can confound a career. A Catastrophe of Success of the sort that may have stymied the Wachowski Siblings when their two unloved MATRIX sequels churned out big bucks before they promptly landed in shitsville with SPEED RACER/’08; CLOUD ATLAS/’12 and possibly the newly delayed JUPITER ASCENDING.* Is this what happened on this ludicrously over-produced Western, a chillingly expensive vanity project for the star (Johnny Depp) & helmer (Gore Verbinski) of the increasingly useless (if profitable) PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series? The kicker is that these two had a charming, eccentric success with their off-kilter animated Western, RANGO/’11. Maybe the blame lies with mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, exiled off the Disney campus after this tanked. And what an odd, joyless, film they all made, as if excess, in and of itself, were funny, exciting, memorable. There’s no human contact in the thing, with Armie Hammer a near blank as the Ranger, unmemorable villains, lackluster heroine, and all the action set-pieces lifeless, laughless, suspense-free Rube Goldberg contraptions encrusted in CGI. With an ending out of Spielberg’s TINTIN/’11, plot & structure freely sampled from LITTLE BIG MAN/’70 and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST/’68, the best thing in the film is a simple little number that finds our heroes spooking the badguys with shadows & lanterns in a mine shaft. Maybe Verbinski will find the soul of his next pic in there, too.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: As mentioned above, RANGO.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: *We’re lifting the phrase, The Catastrophe of Success, from Joseph McBride’s fascinating, if overly bitter, Frank Capra bio.