Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, the director and star, respectively, of the new comedy Western "The Lone Ranger," have made four live-action movies together, a partnership that has stirred up close to $3 billion in global box office receipts.
Yet as the two very likely collaborators (they both hail from the South, are a year apart in age and dabble in music) have worked in tandem, they've seen an unusual pattern: Their grosses have by and large increased even as the critical reception to their films has continued to dip.
"The Lone Ranger" seems to be the nadir of their partnership critically. With only a 19% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes, the duo's collaboration has been faulted for its length (150 minutes), tonal dissonance and excess both visually and narratively. (It's also proved to be one of the most expensive movies the two have produced, besting even the gigantic budgets dedicated to the "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequels.)
It's a far cry from the duo's early days. Verbinski and Depp originally came together for the 2003 release of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl," a venture that was generally embraced by critics, who gave it a 79% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based primarily on the quirky, imaginative performance by Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. Originally scoffed at by the industry, it became a hit to the tune of $654 million worldwide.
The next two films in that trilogy, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" had a lot to build on.
But the critical reception plummeted. Faulted for length and confounding plot lines, "Dead Man's Chest" saw its Rotten Tomatoes score drop to 54% when it came out in 2006. The following year, "At World's End" slipped further to 44%. Meanwhile, both movies raked it in -- and to a far greater extent than the first "Pirates," with each grossing about $1 billion worldwide.
Depp and Verbinski did reverse the trend with their entree into animation. "Rango," the 2011 movie about a chameleon thrown into the wild West, landed them an Oscar win for best animated feature and an 88% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes as the film tallied a relatively paltry $245 million.
Unfortunately the freshness didn't stick for their live-action efforts. Whatever the weekend's box-office results are for Disney's release of "The Lone Ranger," the critical reception appears to be catastrophically low. As the New York Post's Lou Leminick puts it, it's a "bloated, misshapen mess, a stillborn franchise loaded with metaphors for its feeble attempts to amuse, excite and entertain."