MOVIE REVIEW: Best to leave ‘Ranger’ alone

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First Posted: 7/7/2013

“The Lone Ranger” is so annoying in so many ways you leave impressed. Do we begin with the woefully miscast lead or a script that has the emotional stability of a 13-year-old? What’s with all the exposition? And why is it so bloody long? The Lone Ranger spends the first 140 of its 149 minutes finding itself before granting us 10 rollicking minutes. Enron stock had a better return on investment.

It’s 1869. John Reid (Armie Hammer) returns home to practice law in dusty Colby, Texas. Things have changed. His older brother, Dan (James Badge Dale), a meat-and-potatoes Texas Ranger, has married John’s former flame (Ruth Wilson). And Dan is not impressed with his little brother’s book smarts and pacifist tendencies, though he lets John tag along on his manhunt. He even gives baby bro Dad’s old badge, which means someone will die.

Outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) leads an ambush on the rangers, capping it off by literally tearing out Dan’s heart. Tonto (Johnny Depp), a Comanche whose face paint makes him look like KISS’ drummer, buries the bodies. But a higher power, specifically a Spirit Horse, wants John to live. So, Tonto reluctantly forms an uneasy alliance with the do-gooder, who dons a mask and white hat, to capture Cavendish.

Cavendish is embroiled in a plot involving the expanding transcontinental railroad, silver, and Colby’s somber business leader (Tom Wilkinson), the kind of unnecessarily tangled story frequently used as a front for depth in action fare. Director Gore Verbinksi and his writers maintain this fallacy to the point of delusion, bombarding us with backstories (Tonto and John’s very first encounter; the story behind Tonto’s skittish behavior), while intermittently shifting the action to 1933 for reasons that make my brain ache.

These boring diversions don’t just slow the film to a crawl, they create a film with an identity crisis. John learns of Tonto’s tragic past via his Comanche elders. Two minutes later, Tonto and John are buried up to their necks. Tonto’s first line: “Did my name come up?” It’s part of the movie’s relentless campaign to portray Tonto and John/The Lone Ranger as Riggs and Murtaugh on horseback, a tactic that would have been strained even if it had succeeded.

Depp is enjoyable, even if his laconic New Age nuttiness grows wearisome, but he’s shackled by Hammer, who delivers his lines in a contemptuous cadence—sometimes with a Texas accent, sometimes without—that spells doom. “The Lone Ranger” is a buddy-buddy movie, relying on comic banter, with Depp delivering lobs Hammer can’t return. Here, Tonto and the Lone Ranger are a team not because of chemistry, but for a far less inspiring reason: pop culture imprinting.

The writers do Hammer no favors. His character’s high moral fiber renders him a sap. We’re seven steps ahead of the hero in figuring out everything. It’s fitting. The movie is perpetually 30 minutes behind and in no rush to make up the time, providing blah (and hypocritical) commentary on capitalist greed and throwing in useless characters like Helena Bonham Carter’s madam, who looks like she’s about to attend Goth prom. And let’s offer a love triangle because, hey, why not? “The Lone Ranger” gives us everything in a thousand pieces and expects us to construct a movie. No deal, kemo sabe.

Rating: W W

– For more of Pete’s cinematic musings, please visit or follow him on Twitter, @PeteCroatto.