One of the most famous sidekicks is thrust into the spotlight in The Lone Ranger, which unsuccessfully tries to breathe new life into the venerable hero from Westerns on the big and small screen.
With an approach that relies more on Johnny Depp’s scene-stealing portrayal of Native American warrior Tonto than on the title character, the film misses an opportunity to put a fresh spin on the material because it lacks any charm or sagacity underneath its cartoonish surface.
Most of the 19th century tale is an origins story of sorts, needlessly told in flashback to give Depp more screen time, as it explains how its mismatched protagonists became unlikely partners in the Wild West, along with their loyal white-maned horse.
It’s set against the backdrop of the rise of the transcontinental railroad, with John (Armie Hammer) as the last surviving member of the Texas Rangers whose target is an outlaw (William Fichtner) responsible for killing his brother and wounding his sister-in-law. He finds an ally in the superstitious Tonto, an escaped prisoner from a Comanche war.
With Hammer (The Social Network) making for a bland and bumbling hero, it becomes easy for Depp to energize the proceedings with a captivating performance that is more than just eccentric mannerisms and witty one-liners. But he still takes advantage of the quirks afforded him, such as the chance to adapt another oddball accent, wear plenty of makeup and incorporate a dead bird as a hat.
The film reunites Depp with director Gore Verbinski (who directed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films), and the intent here seems to be launching another big-budget franchise together. Yet the script by a trio of writers — including Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road) and Pirates of the Caribbean scribes Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio — struggles with pacing and tone, not to mention historical accuracy. It can’t decide whether it wants to be a bickering buddy comedy or a more serious-minded revenge Western with sociopolitical undertones.
At any rate, it’s a handsomely mounted if overstuffed adventure saga with a handful of impressive period action sequences with the obligatory shootouts and stunt work, including multiple railroad chases and crashes.
Nostalgic viewers might appreciate seeing the iconic mask and hearing the familiar catchphrases and theme song, but they also serve as a reminder that this Lone Ranger is more about spectacle than staying power.
Rated PG-13, 149 minutes.