‘The Lone Ranger’ isn’t as dreadful as you’ve heard

Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer try to loosen up "The Lone Ranger." Credit: Peter Mountain
Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer try to loosen up “The Lone Ranger.”
Credit: Peter Mountain

‘The Lone Ranger’
Director: Gore Verbinski
Stars: Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

Advance buzz on “The Lone Ranger” has been dire, as would plague any $250 million behemoth based on a franchise that few living remember vividly. It’s also a Western, a genre that, as in the past, fares best when not megabudgeted to hell. If this is the movie that people see only because they feel they should, then may they be surprised that it’s not terrible, even if it’s maddeningly at war with itself.

It is, more than anything, a product of its bloated, megablockbuster times, and of its director, a talented filmmaker born at the wrong time. Gore Verbinski is most famous/infamous for the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, based on a theme park ride that nonetheless swelled into bombastic, impenetrable, joyless nonsense. (The third may very well be the worst picture ever made.) They nonetheless (the first and bits of the second, especially) have a bizarre comic streak, a playfulness and a cynical knack for undercutting heroics reminiscent of the great Richard Lester (of the ‘70s “Three Musketeers” films and “Superman II”).

Then again, Verbinski himself demanded the ludicrous price tag and length for “The Lone Ranger,” so he has only himself to blame. He gets in his own way; he’s like a crazy, egomaniacal producer and idiosyncratic filmmaker in one body. (This is strange because the film has its own crazy, egomaniacal producer in Jerry Bruckheimer.) The best parts of “The Lone Ranger,” and they exist, are silly and weird. The worst parts, and they exist, too, aren’t as life-sapping nor as needlessly labyrinthine as “Pirates.”

Because this is a 21st-century picture, it’s an origin story, but it often plays as deconstructive parody — it’s nearly an anti-origin story. Armie Hammer plays the lawyer-reluctantly-and-sloppily-turned-outlaw, who teams up with a relentlessly deadpan, vaguely pissy Tonto, played by Johnny Depp (who swears he has some Cherokee or Creek Indian in his lineage). There’s a conspiracy, involving sinister proto-capitalist Tom Wilkinson, plus William Fichtner, covered in soot and missing part of his lip, as a ornery baddie. (Helena Bonham Carter, with a wooden leg encasing a shotgun, periodically swings by from an even goofier movie, presumably one directed by Robert Rodriguez.) But it’s all leading to a reasonably entertaining climax, in which Verbinski gets to play with multiple colliding trains and the Rossini-cribbed theme finally gets whipped out.

Honestly, it should have been whipped out two acts prior. Origin stories are sapping the fun of mainstream filmmaking, and no one cares where Silver the horse got his name. Still, the undiluted version of this — which would likely resemble “Rango,” Verbinski’s insane cartoon Western, made because he could do whatever he wanted — would have been fantastic. The diluted version simply has lots of moments, albeit squeezed into acres of unnecessary and uninvolving bloat. The Sergio Leone homages are expected, but any movie that nods to both “Little Big Man” and “Dead Man” — Jim Jarmusch’s hippie Western, starring Depp back when no one saw Johnny Depp pictures — can’t be all bad.


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