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The Lone Ranger (2013)

| July 7, 2013 | 0 Comments

Hey you, Silver . . . go aw-a-a-a-y!

Are cowboy movies relevant anymore?  In an era that covets Batman, Iron Man, Superman, Thor and The Avengers, is there really room for a dusty, out-of-date property like The Lone Ranger?  Will kids care about a lawman of the old west?  Calling it dusty and out-of-date might seem harsh, but consider that when this character was revived in “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” back in 1981, it seems like old hat even then.

To tackle this problem, the creators of “The Lone Ranger” hope to draw you in by reminding you that it comes from the same creative team that gave us “Pirates of the Caribbean,” even down to its lead actor, Johnny Depp in the role of Tonto.  With that pedigree, there’s some expectation of a wild and wholly buddy comedy about two squabbling avengers out to bring justice to the old west – kind of a “Lethal Weapon” in 10-gallon hats.

That’s the promise anyway.  Gore Verbinski’s updating suffers from a serious identity crisis; one minute it’s a slapstick comedy and then for the next half hour it’s a dark and dreary western drama.  The story is far more complex than it needs to be.  We meet the man who will be The Lone Ranger as a well-educated lawyer named John Reid (Armie Hammer), a rather square and uncool fellow who believes firmly in the letter of the law.  Of his skills at self-defense he never carries a gun, and claims that he boxed while attending law school.

The time is 1869, and the transcontinental railroad is about the knit the country together by men who would prefer not to admit how they managed to make it happen.  We meet John Reid onboard one of these trains on his way home to meet his brother, Dan (John Badge Dale).  Chained up on one of the other cars are two men who will change John’s destiny.  One is a rotten-faced killer named Butch Cavendish who is on his way to his own hanging.  The other is a native American man named Tonto wearing chalk white makeup and a dead bird on his head.  One thing leads to another, Butch is sprung from the train and Tonto and John Reid become kimosabes.

Without giving away any specifics, let’s just say that John suffers a tragedy at the hands of Butch and vows to bring the man to justice.  What follows is a long, dry, labored story about how Reid wants to bring Butch to justice, meanwhile uncovering a rather harsh conspiracy that involves the railroad, silver mining and the senseless slaughter of native Americans.  What should be a simple story of good guys vs. bad guys is overwritten at the plot level and underwritten at the character level.  The men involved in the conspiracy are so underwhelming as people that they might as well have not even appeared on screen at all.  William Fitchner makes an effective villain as Butch, a blood-thirsty mad dog who cuts out the hearts of his victims.  There’s a fun supporting performance by Helena Bonham Carter as a madam with a prosthetic leg made of ivory. And there’s Silver, The Lone Ranger’s trusty white steed who has some brilliant moments of comic invention, but there isn’t enough of that.

Yet, the two performances that we came for are kind of a letdown.  Armie Hammer’s John Reid is such a wimp that we have a hard time buying him as a man who will become a symbol of justice, as if the filmmakers are hoping that we will come to like him better in the sequels. Johnny Depp’s characterization of Tonto is so aloof and distant that we can never get a foothold in his character.  He’s as crazy as a bag of cats, with his cracked-white make-up and a dead crow mounted on his head (which, for some reason, he keeps feeding bird seed).  He seems as if he knows something that will eventually be revealed, but it never comes.

There’s some tragedy to Tonto’s story, but tragedy is not really what we want here.  We hope for some playful banter between the hero and the sidekick, but the movie loses focus, shifting tone from tragedy to high comedy.  Director Gore Verbinski makes the same mistake here that he made with the “Pirates” movies my making a simple cowboy movie run too long.  There’s no reason that this movie should be 149 minutes long, it doesn’t have that much to say.  The long stretches are interminable; the movie is serious and melodramatic when it should be high-energy and fun.  The film’s final act – when we finally get to hear the theme song – bounds along with some fire and energy, but by that point it’s too little, too late.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.