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Film review: THE LONE RANGER, from Built For Speed

The Lone Ranger, which began as  radio serial in 1933, was a western adventure where the noble white hero, in an optimistically equitable pairing with a native American, triumphed over sweaty fiends in the old west. Given the source material, it was unlikely, the new cinematic version of The Lone Ranger starring Armie Hammer as the titular hero and Johnny Depp as his Comanche sidekick Tonto, was ever going to be The Searchers or an existential Nicholas Ray western.  Instead, we have a campy, almost farcical adventure that will please those looking for some loopy escapism but may irk those wanting a more rugged and straightforward western.

Things start shakily with a dubious framing device in which Depp (in horrible old man make-up) as an ancient Tonto and apparently a living museum exhibit, recalls his adventures with the Lone Ranger many years earlier.  The tale he recounts involves a stock-standard narrative in which he and the Ranger battle a corrupt businessman named Cole (Tom Wilkinson) and his brutal, deformed henchman Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) who are using transcontinental railway expansion to try and snare riches in Native American territory.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto’s battle against Cole unspools at a leisurely pace and at a running time of 149 minutes will test audience endurance levels. Fortunately, the story is dotted with just enough elaborately staged action sequences to prevent the audience from nodding off.  These sequences are, for the most part inventively shot, with impressive stunt work and refreshingly, less CGI than we normally find in modern films. The action also takes place against the stunning back drop of Utah’s Monument Valley.

A bigger problem than the film’s slow pace is its jarring tonal shifts.  One minute it’s a typically quirky, family-friendly Disney film with Tonto chatting to his horse, the next we see people being massacred or having their internal organs cut out.  It’s as if director Gore Verbinski wanted to throw in a little bit of everything to capture a wide audience but this approach just turns the film into a mess.

This film might be called The Lone Ranger and it is in part his origin story but the focus is firmly on Tonto.  Audience reaction to this film, therefore, hinges on whether they approve of Depp’s interpretation of Tonto. While Depp occasionally portrays him as heroic and wise, he mostly plays the character for laughs and often undercuts Tonto’s essential nobility to the point where he’s like something out of F-Troop. Depp is at times genuinely funny moments but too often he’s distractingly mannered.  He doesn’t do himself any favours with a wavering accent which occasionally sounds like Vladimir Putin. Flashbacks to his tribe’s brutal treatment at the hands of whites, however, provide Tonto with a compelling back story and add a fragile and emotional dimension to his character.

Armie Hammer is effectively Tonto’s sidekick and like a younger, taller, blonder Brendan Fraser, he’s an amiable clutzy hero but hardly a riveting screen presence.  Most of the name supporting cast deliver over-the-top but enjoyable performances with Tom Wilkinson a convincingly slimy villain and William Fichtner amusingly grotesque as his murderous minion.  The film’s comical tone, however, deprives these characters of any real menace.  Helena Bonham Carter, as the local brothel madam, again rocks the historical hooker look although her appearances in this film are too sporadic and brief and her lethal ivory leg is so ridiculous it could have come from a film like Wild Wild West.

Although fun and exciting at times, The Lone Ranger is a little too frothy, unfocused and long to succeed as a western, an action adventure or comedy.

 

Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Gore Verbinski.

Release date: 4th July 2013

Running time: 149 mins.

 

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