Hollywood continues to ransack through our collective pop-culture consciousness, hunting for any shred of cherished memory to repacakge and sell back to us. So its no shock it stumbled across The Lone Ranger. Created in 1933 as a radio series about a masked cowboy hero and his Indian sidekick Tonto, it has been revived in various formats over the years, but its a good bet none of those versions is as nakedly opportunistic as Gore Verbinskis $250 million reboot starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp.
Loud but with little to say, beautiful but blank, Disneys The Lone Ranger may be, if not the weakest big-budget movie of the summer, the most ill-advised. Worst of all, its just not much fun.
Verbinski and writers Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio based their origin story on the one thats deeply ingrained as part of Lone Ranger lore. Told in flashback from the perspective of an elderly Tonto in 1933, it begins with John Reid (Hammer), a by-the-book lawyer who returns to his small Texas town to find theres an escaped criminal, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), on the loose.
Butch and his buddies need to be taken out and its up to Reid and a posse of Rangers, led by his brother, Dan (James Badge Dale), to do the dirty work. But the Rangers prove no match for Butchs villainy and all end up cut down, except for John, whom is believed to be dead.
Hes revived by Tonto, who convinces him he needs to disguise his identity and then exact revenge. They become an unlikely duo, the Simon & Garfunkel of the sagebrush, as they go after Butch and later the powerful businessman Cole (Tom Wilkinson).
By far, Depp is the best thing about The Lone Ranger. His deadpan take on the noble savage stereotype provides the films few laughs, while Hammer is only adequate as the Lone Ranger.
To make things more politically palatable for the 21st century, Verbinski alters the dynamic of the duo, making the Lone Ranger brave and good-hearted but a little clueless while Tonto is very much his own man, dealing with a separate set of issues involving his thorny relationship with the rest of his tribe.
Helena Bonham Carter, shoehorned into the plot as a madam with an artificial leg that doubles as a gun (shades of Quentin Tarantinos Grindhouse), doesnt have much to do beyond helping pad the almost 2 1/2-hour running time.
There are also tonal problems as the movie lurches from outright comedic to surprisingly violent: Butch carves the heart from a mans chest and eats it. Granted, they dont show the act in detail but it still may be too much for younger children.
At times, in terms of its attempt at being a stylized, lighthearted look at the Old West through the eyes of a square-jawed hero, The Lone Ranger is reminiscent of the short-lived cult 90s TV series The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. But if Brisco was nimble and brash, The Lone Ranger is just big and noisy. One plus: at least its not in 3-D.
If the storys not particularly compelling, the natural beauty certainly is. Though theoretically taking place in Texas, The Lone Ranger was shot mostly across scenic landscapes in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, including Monument Valley, acting as a visual tribute to some of the great Westerns of history shot by the likes of John Ford.
This Lone Ranger wont be joining their ranks.