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'Lone Ranger' is missing something

  • Written by Jase Howell

OK, so there is no "Pirates of the Caribbean" this summer, but Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski have tried to do the next best thing and re-create another childhood tale using an outlandish budget, Depp acting like a circus clown, and Michael Bay somehow involved to make it incredibly bombastic. 

You cannot fault anyone involved here, this recipe has thus far produced some pretty entertaining films and an obscene amount of money; but let’s not forget, a long time ago before the flood of money, "Pirates" was considered a risk and had to earn the trademark status.  Re-inventing a 1930s radio serial isn't exactly a slam dunk, even with Depp’s and Verbinski's names attached.

OA ranger 3colJohnny Depp is Tonto and Armie Hammer is the title character in “The Lone Ranger.” Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures "The Lone Ranger" in many respects follows the blueprint already forged by "Pirates," which is smart; however, it really never finds the surprising magic those films used to enchant the audience. But more importantly, the "Pirates" films were fairly confident and linear films. "The Lone Ranger," on the other hand, is a strange mess of a film provided with many of the same ingredients, but mixed into a hodge-podge that makes it difficult to even discern its target audience. 

In the wrap around story-telling style, we find Tonto, circa 1933, in San Francisco as sort of a carnie side-show telling stories of the Lone Ranger. This set-up didn't work well for "Young Guns II," and it doesn't work much better here. But Tonto begins the tale and we're shuttled back to 1869 and Colby, Texas.  A train arrives carrying John Reid (Armie Hammer), a local prosecutor, outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and, attached to Cavendish by chain, Tonto (Johnny Depp). Greeting the three is a ruthless railroad magnet (Tom Wilkinson).

The train set-up is  nice because we pretty much get all the principals out of the way so we can commence with a whole lot of Bruckheimer action sequences, which veer from the incredibly silly to isn't this a little bloody for the kids? An ambush of the Texas Rangers sets in motion John Reid's turn toward becoming The Lone Ranger, set on justice and a sort of revenge. His pairing with Tonto, who is strictly bent on revenge, is not exactly ideal for either party, but both want the dastardly Cavendish (also reprised from the serial) and, of course, the ever wicked Wilkinson gets some nice moments as well, villainous not being a stretch for him.

Oh, and Helena Bonham-Carter joins the fun as madam Red Harrington.  There are also devil rabbits, a mythical Silver, and Tonto constantly feeding a dead bird on his head. I mentioned this was a mess.

Perhaps the magic of the "Pirates" crew vanished when they hit the desert, but more or less everyone is intact here including Depp, Verbinski and writers Justin Haythe, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. Everything about this film screams better left not realized as a concept, including a destined to be immortalized train sequence (immortalized for all of the wrong and absurd reasons).

One can't exactly say the talent is squandered here, after all, these actors hopefully read the script. Armie Hammer must have known he was going to come off as a bumbling second fiddle to depp’s Tonto, though I'm still not sure how the title character got switched to second fiddle. Depp probably thought he could have more fun with the Tonto character, and he may have -- but we don't. And, like Depp, why does a talent the likes of Bomham-Carter keep showing up for bit pieces in films just be a sideshow, like Tonto in this film.  This was definitely a serial best left in the box.