By Laurie Coker
“Hi-Yo, Silver away!” Leaping on to screens for a long 149 minutes of run time, The Lone Ranger, starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, annoys as much as it unabashedly entertains. For year, in my youth (in reruns and in black and white), The Lone Ranger and Tonto fought crime in the Old West, with all the seriousness warranted to such a task, but director Gore Verbinski gives his audience an odd blend of The Pirates of the Caribbean and Rango in this part comedic, part melodramatic The Lone Ranger. The results are a bit of a mess and while the stars play to the hilt, Verbinski and screenwriters Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Justin Haythe’s version relies far too much on exaggerated, sometime super silly stunts and unnerving violence rather than on a quality story and a single style.
In 1939, an aged Indian in a museum display tells a story to a young boy dressed in Lone Ranger garb, complete with the mask. The boy stands wide-eyed as this storyteller twists a tale in a manner that is both confusing and grave. Flashing back, the storyteller relays that after an ambush by the blood-thirsty and extremely nasty Butch Cavendish (William Ficthner) and his gang – which leaves all the Texas Rangers dead, including his brother – naïve attorney John Reid (left for dead) dons a badge and a mask and joins forces with a slightly-off kilter Comanche called Tonto to seek justice – one man looking to take Cavendish to face the courts, the other to put him in a grave.
Although the film’s leading men are perhaps the best thing about the film, Depp plays his Tonto far too much like Jack Sparrow, with the same quirky demeanor, but because he does this so well, Tonto manages to appeal to us anyway. He is outlandish, audacious and often a bit too nuts. Of note too is the fact that a great deal of the time, Tonto is more the lead than the sidekick. Hammer, who I love watching, is given a character that is one part intelligence, one part buffoon and one part super hero (in part because of his wonderful, white steed, Silver). Often, however, his naivety and buffoonery overwhelm the other aspects, qualities that had me rolling my eyes several times. Still together they are good fun, even if they lack notable chemistry overall and Hammer fills his boots with old-style Western flair.
Nearly unrecognizable, Ficthner seethes evil as Cavendish, a man who kills without remorse and feeds on the hearts of his victims. Verbinski truly has gathered an excellent ensemble, which includes Barry Pepper (Captain Jay Fuller), Tom Wilkinson (Latham Cole), and Helena Bonham Carter (Red Harrington). I cared little for actress Ruth Wilson as Dan Reid’s wife Rebecca, who we are lead to believe loved John before Dan, but settled for the older more stable brother. She, of course, and her son are used to lure John and Tonto to the film’s final wild, violent and slap-sticky showdown.
Many aspects of Verbinski’s film work, but he and producer Jerry Bruckheimer stray from the source material, giving us uniquely different Lone Ranger – one that will appeal to some, but appall others. The sets are stunning, the stunts raucous and the stars shining, but something simply doesn’t gel. It’s a huge production like Verbinski’s others and visually impressive to watch. It even has an old Hollywood Western feel and look to it. I didn’t get the excitement and enthusiasm of my guest, who grew up with the masked man, and still LOVED this one, nor did I feel the disdain of my son, who scoffed at Verbinski’s overblown telling and the comedic direction. NO, I fall in between. I am placing a C+/B- in my grade book.