The Lone Ranger Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp, William Fichtner. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Rated PG-13. Now playing.
For 20 years and nearly 3,000 episodes in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, The Lone Ranger radio drama needed only voices, music and sound effects to captivate audiences. Sixty years later, the bloated film version throws together hundreds of millions of dollars, elaborate special effects, huge stunts and one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and yet it’s far from captivating or even more than mildly engaging. At two and a half hours, it’s a plodding, tiresome mess, with meager humor and chaotic (but occasionally rousing) action.
Although Armie Hammer plays the title character, a masked avenger in the old West, it’s Johnny Depp as his Native American sidekick Tonto who’s the real draw here. Director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are obviously trying to replicate the success they enjoyed with Depp on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (co-screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio also worked on the Pirates series), so they’ve made Tonto into the latest Depp deadpan weirdo, evoking the memory of Captain Jack Sparrow whenever possible. Between the Pirates movies and his recent collaborations with Tim Burton, Depp has really worn out what was once a fresh and entertaining persona, and Tonto’s one-liners inspire slight chuckles at best.
It doesn’t help that the filmmakers then saddle the character with a tragic backstory that undermines his status as wacky comic relief. The whole movie is full of similar jarring tonal shifts—from comic anachronisms to straight-faced social commentary, death-defying action to startlingly serious violence. In the midst of it is Hammer, theoretically the main character but stuck playing straight man to Depp’s played-out shtick. Like so many franchise-starting action blockbusters, The Lone Ranger is a protracted origin story, and by the time the William Tell Overture (familiar as the theme song to the Ranger radio and TV shows) kicks in and Hammer finally gets to play the iconic hero, it’s past the two-hour mark.
There are entertaining moments along the way, but they’re mostly buried under the loud fight scenes and monotonous exposition (including an especially useless framing sequence). At one time, the Lone Ranger’s appeal was simple, but this movie seems to be doing everything possible to obscure it.