Ten years ago, director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp created one of the all-time best summer blockbusters, "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." It was funny, slick, bright, brisk, lighthearted and exciting — all the things that this year's summer blockbusters are not.
Now, Verbinski and Depp have reteamed for "The Lone Ranger," about the reliable old masked cowboy hero who was created in 1933 for radio and has since appeared on TV, movie serials and in comic books.
Interestingly, Verbinski and Depp already made a great Western hybrid two years ago with the animated "Rango." In moving from animation to live action, their biggest error is in the new film's length: "Rango," at 1 hour, 47 minutes, was compact. "The Lone Ranger" runs 42 minutes longer, and it's a bit flabby.
Despite the padding, "The Lone Ranger" moves extremely well, capturing many of the qualities that made "Pirates of the Caribbean" so much fun.
The plot-heavy story involves a murderous silver thief (William Fichtner) with a scarred "Jonah Hex"-like face, an evil corporate railroad man (Tom Wilkinson), a romance with a young widow (Ruth Wilson) plus revenge and destiny.
Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger is chiseled, handsome and heroic, but — unlike most of this summer's other heroes — self-aware and funny as well. It seems as if he's really enjoying himself.
Depp conjures up a sympathetic Tonto, actually kind of a guru for the Lone Ranger, with face paint and a bird headdress based on a painting called "I Am Crow."
The actor adds a few layers of deadpan physical comedy to the role, much like his Buster Keaton-esque performance in "Benny and Joon," while also recalling his earlier Western, the masterpiece "Dead Man."
He creates a real inner world for the kooky, mystical character, which is more or less ruined when the movie goes into a lengthy flashback about Tonto's childhood. Stuck inside this big movie is a good smaller movie, struggling to get out. It's all here: "William Tell Overture" theme music, beautifully photographed canyons, and a couple of exhilarating chase and fight sequences.
While it's possible to make a Western epic, like the great "Once Upon a Time in the West," the Lone Ranger character isn't built for that kind of treatment. Better suited for a TV episode, he should have entered, guns-a-blazing, saved the day and rode off, quick as a hearty "Hi-ho, Silver!"
REVIEWThe Lone Ranger
Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Ruth Wilson, Tom Wilkinson
Written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Running time 2 hours, 29 minutes