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Armie Hammer, left, as The Lone Ranger and Johnny Depp as Tonto in “The Lone Ranger,” now in theaters. Photo by Peter Mountain
Armie Hammer, left, as The Lone Ranger and Johnny Depp as Tonto in “The Lone Ranger,” now in theaters. Photo by Peter Mountain
Arts Rancho Santa Fe

Film review: ‘The Lone Ranger’ rides again

“The Lone Ranger” has everything money can buy to relive the glory days of the Western—only to squander its trainload of freshly mined silver on a directionless plot, an uneven tone, inflated action sequences, and a not so legendary cast. 

In 1930s San Francisco, a boy visits an Old West exhibit at the local fairground, where he comes face-to-face with a living diorama of Comanche warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp). The old Native American recounts the time he spent with John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law who eventually transformed into a legendary figure of justice. His retelling of those moments takes the boy (and by extension, the audience) on a fantastic train ride of epic proportions in which the two unlikely saviors of the American frontier must join forces to stop greed and corruption.

For starters the film has no sense of navigation. Apparently director Gore Verbinski didn’t learn his lesson from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels in terms of storytelling. Too many types of plots are weaved into this blockbuster, creating a convoluted mess that cannot be fixed. What starts off as a revenge/outlaw tale gets sidetracked by subplots involving railroad construction and the conflict between cavalry and Indians. As a result of these additional centers of attention, the main focus in no way comes into its own.

Furthermore, the patchy tone makes for a train ride destined for derailment. If you ask me, I think producer Jerry Bruckheimer was so hell-bent on making “The Lone Ranger” so big that he forgot how to create a consistent atmosphere. What kind of Western does the film want to be? Does it pay homage to the genre’s golden years? Should it be a realistic, revisionist analysis of society? Or does it fall into a territory characterized by violent selfishness? “The Lone Ranger” never clarifies its true identity, and it seems doomed to eternal obscurity.

As for the action sequences, I think the filmmakers were trying too hard to impress the audience. I understand that it’s been decades since we’ve seen a giant Western containing elaborate action-packed moments, but when these scenes are defined more by their lavish visuals than their natural abilities, you can tell what you’re seeing is overblown and hollow. The U.S. Cavalry-Comanche battle felt overly staged, and the two ambitious train chases were more than I could digest.

For all his handsome looks and skill with a gun, Armie Hammer is possibly the worst choice to play a cowboy, especially one of such a classic reputation. Not only did his dialogue delivery sound awkward, but his transformation from straight-laced lawman to symbol of justice also fell short of achieving a legendary status. As for Johnny Depp, his portrayal of Tonto is just plain odd, which fails to do him any favors in the long run. Come to think of it, he was as confused as the white horse accompanying him.

Tom Wilkinson and Barry Pepper never get the opportunity to explore their characters beyond their usual conventions, the former being a railroad tycoon and the latter being a US Cavalry officer. In contrast, William Fichtner seems to relish expressing his contempt for humanity in his role of notorious scarred outlaw Butch Cavendish.

I wish I could say something positive about the women of the Old West, but sadly, “The Lone Ranger” doesn’t do them justice. The term “generic” fits Ruth Wilson perfectly, as no aspect of her behavior distinguishes her from the rest of the dust-covered townspeople. And I don’t know why Helena Bonham Carter joined this big-budget debacle other than to glam herself up frontier style; it seems as though Verbinski and Bruckheimer had no idea how to make the most of her talents.

You won’t find a legend worth learning about in “The Lone Ranger,” so think twice before purchasing a ticket. The only thing you will find is a waste of precious silver that could’ve been spent on a project that actually had a story to tell.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material.
Run time: 2 hours 29 minutes
Playing: In general release