‘The Lone Ranger’ plays out like ‘Pirates’ in the Old West
BY RICHARD ROEPER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST July 2, 2013 11:38AM
The Lone Ranger
‘THE LONE RANGER’ ★½
John Reid/Lone Ranger Armie Hammer
Tonto Johnny Depp
Cavendish William Fichtner
Cole Tom Wilkinson
Red Helena Bonham Carter
Fuller Barry Pepper
Dan Reid James Badge Dale
Walt Disney Studios presents a film directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Running time: 149 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense action/violence, and some suggestive material). Opening Wednesday in wide release.
Updated: July 2, 2013 8:36PM
In the unholy mess that is “The Lone Ranger,” we finally have a movie that combines the slapstick antics of a live-action “Road Runner” cartoon with a villain so bloodthirsty, he literally cuts out the heart of a vanquished foe and eats it.
Some films are for everyone. This film is for just about no one.
Everything that could go wrong with this movie does go wrong, spectacularly so, from a rare bad performance from the great Johnny Depp, who plays Tonto as a crazy desert vaudeville performer, to the decidedly unmemorable work from promising talent Armie Hammer as the title character, to a script that feels like some sort of mash-up of every attempt to reboot a franchise that saw its greatest success as a radio show in the 1930s and a TV series in the 1950s.
This is slick trash. A bloated, unfunny, sometimes downright bizarre train wreck featuring some of the loudest, longest and least entertaining actual train wrecks in recent memory.
Hammer is the prosecutor John Reid, deputized during a crisis as a Texas Ranger by his tougher, braver, heroic older brother. As Tonto, Depp wears a dead bird on his head, favors face paint that makes him look like the first member of the Kiss Army — and speaks, well, like Tonto. It’s not an offensive performance; it’s just not very interesting or innovative or funny, and when was the last time anyone said that about Johnny Depp’s work?
“The Lone Ranger” is filled with colorful supporting characters played by reliable performers, including Helena Bonham Carter as a madam with an ivory leg that doubles as a shotgun; Tom Wilkinson as a power-hungry railroad man (is there any other kind of railroad man in movies like this?), and William Fichtner as the outlaw Butch Cavendish, a familiar villain to longtime “Lone Ranger” fans. Not everyone is who they first appear to be — but the twists are telegraphed in ways so obvious, they fall just short of a mustache-twirl and a sinister wink to the camera.
We can see the millions spent on “The Lone Ranger” onscreen, what with all the elaborate set pieces, the crazy stunts performed by humans and computer creations, the exploding glass, and the roaring trains and hails of bullets and arrows. It’s all quite well rendered and bereft of passion.
I’ll bet some of the team involved have always loved “The Lone Ranger.” It’s a shame almost none of that passion shines through.
Sometimes this movie feels like “The Pirates of the Caribbean” in the Old West, what with the direction from “Pirates” helmer Gore Verbinski, and Depp flouncing about in his elaborate makeup and plumage. Occasionally the Lone Ranger and Tonto are involved in slapstick hijinks that would kill anything this side of a superhero or a cartoon character. The next moment, there’s some fairly intense PG-13 nastiness. Right after that, we get some ponderous spiritual gibberish, or a heavy-handed flashback showing how Tonto became Tonto.
Also, there’s a lot of stuff about pocket watches.
The framing device is a 1933 carnival exhibition in San Francisco at which a young Lone Ranger fan encounters an apparently 100-year-old Tonto, who’s now behind glass as “The Noble Savage.” Tonto spins his tale to the kid, and back in time we go, only to return every half hour or so. (This melancholy gimmick undercuts a largely comedic film. THIS is what became of Tonto? He’s a sideshow freak?)
Hammer’s got the right look to play John Reid/The Lone Ranger, and he’s shown flashes of charisma in previous roles, most notably in “The Social Network.” But he’s a bland clown here as a by-the-book lawman prone to bouts of nerves, stupidity and generally unimpressive behavior. This version of “The Lone Ranger” repeats many of the mistakes of “The Green Hornet,” whose hero by the way is the great-nephew of the Lone Ranger, and I’m not making that up.
Whether we’re dealing with X-Men or Superman or human anti-heroes, there’s almost always that period of reluctance or even refusal to wear the badge or the mask or the crown or the wings or whatever. But — SPOILER ALERT — we’re practically at the closing credits before this guy seems to have any interest in becoming the Lone Ranger.
Oh, yes — the weirdness. For some reason this movie has not one, but two scenes involving apparently demonic rabbits with vampire-esque fangs. Meanwhile, Silver behaves like some sort of creature from a deleted scene of “Lost,” magically showing up at the weirdest times and even perching on the branch of tree at some point while wearing the Lone Ranger’s hat.
And then there’s the whole business of the dead bird on Tonto’s head. He keeps feeding it seeds. Being dead, it is not interested in the seeds.
Hi-yo, Silver. Away.