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The Lone Ranger' a woeful misfire

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Big-budget adaptation a cynical mess

The summer season is a time of cinematic spectacle. Nine-figure budgets and global stars are brought together in an attempt to build and/or maintain billion-dollar franchises. Sometimes, these plans go as intended and you get a real blockbuster. Other times, a variety of factors go awry cost overruns, reshoots, misreading of audiences and you get films that fall flat. These are movies that, while not necessarily utter disasters, nevertheless fail to deliver on expectations.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your next big summer disappointment 'The Lone Ranger.'

John Reid (Armie Hammer, 'Mirror Mirror') is a newly-minted prosecuting attorney, returning to his Texas hometown for the first time in almost a decade. His brother Dan (James Badge Dale, 'World War Z') is the head lawman there in Colby. He awaits the train's arrival not because of his brother, but because the notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner, TV's 'Crossing Lines') is being transported. Conveniently enough, Cavendish's fellow prisoner is a Comanche by the name of Tonto (Johnny Depp, 'Dark Shadows').

Of course, Butch's gang isn't about to allow their leader to get taken by the law, so they stage a daring rescue a rescue that both John and Tonto barely survive. Dan deputizes his brother and takes a posse out into the badlands in an attempt to take Butch in. Alas, there is an ambush every member of the posse is gunned down.

But John survives, thanks in part to the intervention of Tonto. When the 'spirit horse' chooses John as its rider, Tonto has no choice but to join up with John in their mutual war against Cavendish. Since everyone believes John dead, Tonto convinces him to wear a mask; thus John becomes the Lone Ranger.

There's also some stuff about railroad tycoons and wars with Native Americans; Helena Bonham Carter ('Dark Shadows') shows up periodically as an ivory-legged madam. Dan's family gets kidnapped and then rescued and then kidnapped again. 

It's all kind of a mess.

There's something very cynical about 'The Lone Ranger.' It's almost like director Gore Verbinski who was behind the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' films assumed that since he had Johnny Depp in a ridiculous costume, he didn't need to worry about little things like story. So while there are some strikingly lovely shots in this film western panoramas abound things never quite gel in this movie.

Hammer gamely does his best; there's a self-deprecating vibe about him that seems almost designed to apologize for how good-looking he is. He's kind of a stiff, which is too bad we've seen better out of him. Still, he does what is asked of him. And of course, despite the fact that the movie is called 'The Lone Ranger,' the star of the show is definitely Depp as Tonto. Unfortunately, the truth is that Depp's performance is mildly disappointing. He shows a couple of flashes, but mostly, you just question why he's wasting his time here (my guess is the truckloads of money).

(As an aside, I'm still not sure if Johnny Depp playing a Native American is racist, but it kind of feels that way.)

The supporting cast is fine, although the movie never lets them forget that they really don't matter all that much. Fichtner is all gold-toothed sneering, an amalgam of equally forgettable Western baddies. Tom Wilkinson ('The Samaritan') is decidedly 'meh' as the railroad mover/shaker. Ruth Wilson ('Anna Karenina') and Bryant Prince (in his feature debut) are cardboard plot devices as the family of John Reid's brother. And I can't for the life of me figure out what the hell Helena Bonham Carter is even doing here.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it never seems to figure out what it wants to be. There are some moments between Hammer and Depp that are endearing glimpses of a relationship that could be quite interesting if given a chance. There are a few groan-inducing jokes that nevertheless elicit a few chuckles. But that buddy comedy vibe is offset by some shockingly graphic moments of violence; the kids in the audience are likely to be shaken by the brutality that is sometimes displayed here. The shifts in tone are jarring and more than a little off-putting.

Despite a few laughs and some decent action sequences, 'The Lone Ranger' is neither funny enough nor exciting enough to justify either its massive budget or its interminable 150-plus minute run time. It's a miscalculated cash-grab that, while it will probably make enough money to break even, certainly won't scale the box office heights that its producers expected.

1 out of 5

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