Review: The Lone Ranger
PLOT: John Reid (Armie Hammer), a tenderfoot lawyer educated in the east, is left for dead by a gang of outlaws. Donning a leather mask to hide his identity, he teams up with a Native American warrior named Tonto (Johnny Depp) to bring the bloodthirsty gang to justice.
REVIEW: Well, it’s finally here. THE LONE RANGER is a movie we’ve all been tracking since it was announced Johnny Depp would be reteaming with his PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN director Gore Verbinski in a new, politically correct “reimaging” of the classic character. This isn’t the first time Hollywood has tried this. In 1981, the big-budget LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER hit the silver screen, with the results being so bad that the lead actor, Klinton Spilsbury, was never heard from again. Given the $200 million dollar budget, Disney, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are obviously hoping this will be the start of a new billion dollar franchise. But is THE LONE RANGER worth all the effort?
Having caught the film a few weeks ago at a very early press screening, I was lucky enough to see it at a point where any kind of buzz- positive or negative- hadn’t really kicked in yet. Given that the trailers promised a kind of western PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, with Johnny Depp playing a very loopy, comical version of Tonto, I didn’t exactly expect THE LONE RANGER to be any kind of conventional western, but I was at least hoping it would be more like the first PIRATES, and less like the sequels.
For the first half hour, I was pretty pleased by what I was seeing. The film starts with an elderly Tonto recounting his adventures to a youngster wearing a Lone Ranger mask. Depp’s performance is typical of his work lately, meaning it’s very eccentric and totally played for laughs. Still, for the first half hour that was fine, with it starting off as a relatively cool western with Reid’s heroic brother, Dan (memorably played by James Badge Dale) taking one of the baddies, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) to prison on board a train that comes under attack by Butch’s gang. The first action sequence is pretty thrilling, especially when paired with Hans Zimmer’s Ennio Morricone-style spaghetti western score (complete with a cool pan flute theme for Tonto). For a while I was really thinking Verbinski had nailed it.
Too bad that once the train crashes at the end of the extended, thirty minute—long sequence, the film goes with it, and we still have over two hours to go. The big problem with THE LONE RANGER is with the titular character, who, like Tonto, is played strictly for laughs by star Armie Hammer. You’d think that over the course of the film Hammer’s tenderfoot would gradually turn into a hero worthy of his mask, but he plays it so over-the-top and jokey that he seems to have been inspired by Johnny Depp’s performance from SLEEPY HOLLOW. As such, we get him shrieking and panicking through the repetitive action sequences (nearly all of them somehow involving trains and huge amounts of CGI). I couldn’t help but think that Badge Dale’s character should have become the Lone Ranger instead. Hammer’s a good actor, but his Lone Ranger is the wimpiest action hero in recent memory.
Even that wouldn’t be a huge problem is Depp’s Tonto was able to pick up the slack, but Depp gets so carried away in his character’s eccentricities that he’s impossible to take seriously. Thus, you get a wimpy action hero, paired with a sidekick that seems permanently stoned on peyote- feeding the dead bird he wears on his head- and spends most of his time goofing around with their iconic white horse, Silver, who’s initially supposed to be some kind of native spirit animal, but soon gets into all kinds of horse-hijinks, like drinking a tub of whisky (a drunk horse- har-har-har!!!).
The villains aren’t much better. Tom Wilkinson plays the main baddie, being a railroad representative working on some kind of land-grab scheme that’s so dull I can hardly remember what it was all about. William Fichtner livens things up as the sadistic Cavendish, who has a taste for human flesh, being shown eating a human heart (LONE RANGER is pretty gruesome for a PG-13, and more violent than WORLD WAR Z), with it also suggested that he once dined on the leg of Helena Bonham Carter’s dancehall proprietress (who acts like she wandered out of a Tim Burton movie). Barry Pepper also shows up late in the game as an initially conflicted Calvary officer (with Custer-style flowing yellow locks) who quickly turns into a crazy, two-pistol shooting psychopath without any good explanation. Newcomer Ruth Wilson plays Reid’s love interest, but doesn’t have much to do other than looking longingly at Hammer and find herself in distress.
In the end, THE LONE RANGER ended up being just another overlong, bombastic would-be epic, more like the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequels and PRINCE OF PERSIA than the franchise-starter it’s meant to be. Depp’s Tonto is occasionally amusing, and the movie at least looks good, thanks to the cinematography by Bojan Bazelli. But outside the first thirty minutes I was bored, and the 150 minute running time feels downright oppressive. This is long and dull. I expect that even if it ends up being a hit, no one will be clamoring for a sequel any time soon. Then again, despite only the first film being good, we’re about to get a fifth PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN- so maybe there will be a LONE RANGER 2 after all.