The Lone Ranger Opens Wed., July 3 at Majestic Bay and other

The Lone Ranger

Opens Wed., July 3 at Majestic Bay and other theaters. Rated PG-13. 149 minutes.

Is there anything as surefire as the William Tell Overture? I mean, who messes that up? Whatever the Disney people do with the new big-budget version of The Lone Ranger, at least they’ll get the famous music right, right? Well, funny story. The music—and so many other things—are all wrong about The Lone Ranger, a mechanical contraption that never decides what it wants to be. The Lone Ranger’s squeaky-clean image and code of behavior are hopelessly square for the 21st century, but the movie hasn’t come up with anything viable to replace what worked in those thrilling days of yesteryear.

The casting is promising: Johnny Depp is Tonto, which means the masked man’s Indian sidekick is not a sidekick anymore. (Somewhere, Jay Silverheels is smiling—top-billed at last.) And Armie Hammer, who played the computer-generated twins of The Social Network, has the strong jaw and straightforward manner for a credible John Reid, aka the Lone Ranger. As it happens, Hammer plays the tenderfoot card and not much else, while Depp is busy doing his actorly fiddling. We first meet Tonto in old age, recalling his past glories (this is merely the first echo of Little Big Man), but for most of the film Depp is covered in tribal makeup, fur, and a dead crow he wears atop his head; it’s hard for his impish personality to break the surface.

About that crow. It’s typical of what’s wrong with the film: We learn the bird’s meaning in a serious flashback that sets up an emotional story arc, the kind that screenwriting classes love to belabor. But the rest of the time, the crow’s a joke, a running gag with a broken beak. In a similar vein, expect to hear countless variations on “What’s with the mask?” as the film goes along.

The story’s about how businessmen and politicians get together to ruin the country with their railroads, a plot that rarely gets in the way of the one-liners and cartoonish sight gags. There are locomotive chases, horses galloping across rooftops, and characters falling from great heights and bouncing up without a scratch. Granted, Tonto is narrating the story, so maybe we chalk this up to magical realism. But it looks more like director Gore Verbinski opted to go big and broad—so, among other things, William Fichtner’s chief bad guy is as greasily repellent a varmint as you’d ever meet out West (maybe too repellent for a Disney audience that failed to note the PG-13 rating).

Verbinski and Depp made three Pirates of the Caribbean pictures together, and presumably somebody figured they’d catch the same balance of comedy and Halloween scares here. Nothing doing. A movie that ridicules its own mythology can’t expect the audience to care about the outcome. And as long as we’re laying out rules: Don’t add extra choruses to the William Tell Overture, either.

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