Movie Review: 'The Lone Ranger' -- 2 stars
The Lone Ranger
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter
“The Lone Ranger” begins and ends with action scenes set onboard speeding trains that would have made Buster Keaton smile.
They’re symphonies of broad, physical comedy that make full use of the space, with guns popping, fists flying, characters careening this way and that and an eye for the graceful movements that once defined cinematic spectacles.
Sandwiched between those sequences of kinetic bliss is a 2 ½ hour beast of a movie that owes more to the current age of studio blockbusters by committee than the radio show, serials and TV program on which it is based.
The film reunites the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” director (Gore Verbinski) with its star (Johnny Depp) and producer (Jerry Bruckheimer). So, it’s no surprise that this spectacle recalls the “Pirates” franchise by being packed with leaden exposition and a grandiose display of its $215 million budget. All that’s missing is the adventurous spirit.
Depp plays Tonto, conceived here simultaneously as a noble Native American warrior and a slapstick buffoon. He’s Captain Jack Sparrow’s quieter cousin, doling out aphorisms when he’s not demonstrating an almost mystical knack for avoiding bodily harm.
Armie Hammer is John Reid, the Lone Ranger, who returns to his Texas home as a wet-behind-the-ears lawyer with ideas of justice that simply don’t belong in the Wild West. William Fichtner scowls as the outlaw Butch Cavendish, while Tom Wilkinson sinisterly ruminates on forward progress as a railroad man.
The filmmaker renders the 1869 setting in a cookie-cutter fashion, packing it with all the familiar clichés. There’s nary a quiet moment from start to finish. Chugging locomotives, a steampunk-themed brothel, Tonto’s wise practices and endless fights leave little time to develop characters, ruminate on the genre or convey the majesty of the frontier.
That’s no surprise, of course. This is filmmaking on the biggest possible scale, crafted to purge every last dollar from moviegoers’ wallets. “The Lone Ranger” has three credited screenwriters and a well-reported troubled production history that included a shutdown due to budgetary concerns.
It has the feel of a production victimized by overthinking, tinkered with in an attempt to maximize its appeal to every possible audience.
So it’s comic and serious, offering Hammer as a square-jawed matinee idol while turning the character into a complete blockhead. Scenes of violence against the innocent and mournful reflections on Native American genocide clash with odes to old-fashioned adventure. The story plods along a predictable path.
“The Lone Ranger” is no “Wild Wild West” (1999) when it comes to big-budget disasters, but it’s the most overstuffed blockbuster in a summer filled with them. The movie cries out for a lightness of spirit that only manifests during those bookend train scenes, when the sounds of the William Tell Overture transport you back to an innocent age of filmmaking that’s never seemed farther away.