I really wanted to like “The Lone Ranger” if only for all the hours I spent as a kid watching reruns of the old TV show starring Clayton Moore on our local UHF station.
There was something kind of reassuring about the masked man’s ironclad sense of justice and his dogged, punch-throwing pursuit of it.
The Lone Ranger is just not a character that translates well to our era of irony where we like our heroes to be morally conflicted and brooding.
This is probably why Disney’s update of “The Lone Ranger” has a wildly uneven tone and feels like it was being reworked all the way up to the projection booth.
The movie was directed by Gore Verbinski, who was responsible for Disney’s insanely successful “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. They even brought along Captain Jack Sparrow himself, Johnny Depp, to try to recapture that magic formula by playing the Lone Ranger’s faithful Indian sidekick Tonto.
The success of “Pirates” had a lot to do with the fact that they weren’t beholden to any preconceived expectations unless you count those held by amusement park aficionados or lovers of goofy animatronics.
But the Lone Ranger is a part of the American collective unconscious and his white hat and black mask are as iconic as Washington’s wooden teeth or Lincoln’s stovepipe hat. This is a lot easier to screw up.
Then there was the odd choice of shifting Depp’s star-power to the supporting role as the Lone Ranger is played by Armie Hammer, a fine actor who is almost as talented as he is handsome. Hammer does a solid job but he doesn’t have the juice to pull this movie away from Depp.
It’s just a little disconcerting, like if you went to see a movie called “Batman” and then the Dark Knight was constantly upstaged by Robin.
The plot is straight out of Western Screenplay Writing 101 and involves a sinister outlaw (William Fichtner), a powerful railroad entrepreneur (Tom Wilkinson), a respectable widow in distress (Ruth Wilson), a vain cavalry captain (Barry Pepper), and a brothel matron with an ivory leg and a heart of gold (Helena Bonham Carter).
When the Lone Ranger arrives back in Texas, he is a simple lawyer named John Reid, but he is reborn and repurposed when an ambush kills his brother (James Badge Dale) and nearly takes his own life.
Side note: Badge Dale has now died in three blockbusters this summer, including “Iron Man 3” and “World War Z.” I’m not sure if anyone keeps track of things like this, but that has to be some kind of record.
The biggest problem with “The Lone Ranger” is that the tone is all over the place. Heavy-handed scenes of Native American genocide are countered with Depp constantly feeding his dead-crow headdress and running around with a birdcage on his head (respect for native cultures!).
Then, between running gags about the Ranger’s mask and goofy jokes about horse poop, we have a scene where a man cuts out and eats the heart of another man (family fun!).
Verbinski has a lot of problems as a director, most of which involve editing as this sucker clocks in at an unnecessary two and a half hours. But what the man can do well is direct the holy hell out of an action sequence. It’s almost worth sitting through two hours of mess to get to the point where the signature “William Tell Overture” kicks in beginning a wildly entertaining finale featuring two speeding locomotives. Almost.
If “The Lone Ranger” was going to be successful it required a novel, thoughtful take on this classic character. This slapdash effort just doesn’t cut it, which makes me wonder if the Ranger wouldn’t have been better off remaining in those thrilling days of yesteryear.
“The Lone Ranger” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material.