By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The decades fly by, but the radio and TV intro remains lodged in my brainpan: “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty ‘Hi-yo, Silver.’ The Lone Ranger!”
And now, with the accompaniment of the familiar William Tell Overture, The Lone Ranger comes to the 21st-century movie screen, asking us to return “to those thrilling days of yesteryear.”
Well, nice try, kemosabe, but no dice.
The Lone Ranger comes to the movie screen -– not for the first time, but never before with this high a profile. (Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels took their TV roles to the cinema screen a few times, but without having much impact.)
Director Gore Verbinski takes the hodgepodge of a story and screenplay, neither tribute nor sendup, by Justin Haythe, Terry Rossio, and Ted Elliot -– which features what seems like a random assortment of plot points and references from the source material — and mixes broad comedy with cartoonish western adventure, as the Lone Ranger and Tonto try to bring law and order and justice to the wild west.
The origin-story plot, such as it is, barely matters -– and makes precious little sense. Which goes for the odd bracketing device that opens and closes the film as well.
Armie Hammer takes the role of the high-minded and heroic title character, starting out as an educated lawyer named John Reid, who returns to the west and is promptly ambushed by the Butch Cavendish gang; Johnny Depp is the eccentric Native American who becomes his sidekick, the Comanche spirit warrior Tonto.
Their destinies are now altered and tied together.
Of course, casting superstar Depp as the “faithful companion” and relatively-new-to-stardom Hammer as the title character — whose feats of derring-do in the climax come out of nowhere — invites an upsetting of the apple cart, which is exactly what happens.
And Hammer and Depp get to exhibit so little playful chemistry, it’s as if they’re in different movies: Depp in a comedy, Hammer in a western adventure.
Depp’s Tonto is so much more dynamic and interesting than anything or anyone else on screen that we find ourselves wondering where he is whenever he disappears and wishing the film would sidetrack into his story.
Not that there’s anything especially wrong with Hammer’s work; he just doesn’t have the charisma or sense of humor of Depp, who can do more with a momentary gesture than most actors can do with lengthy monologues.
In short, Depp towers over this one just as he did in the mediocre Pirates of the Caribbean adventures, and his subtle work gets buried under an avalanche of chaotic action sequences.
Verbinski (Mouse Hunt, The Ring, The Mexican, The Weather Man) — who directed Depp in the animated western Rango as well as the first three Pirates flicks -– emphasizes stunts rather than special effects, which is a refreshing throwback approach.
But after showing us a few breathtaking American Southwest vistas early on, getting our nostalgic hopes up, the director settles into his main groove: cramming as much sanitized violence and casual death into a PG-13-rated epic as is possible in a ridiculously bloated 2½ hours.
So we’ll unmask 2 stars out of 4 for The Lone Ranger, an underwhelming exercise in literal and figurative overkill.