'The Lone Ranger' reboot goes goofy and grim
Saying the new “Lone Ranger” has “tone issues” is just code for “I could have done without the bad guy tearing out somebody's heart and taking a bite out of it.”
The folks who did the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies go overboard with the violence in what is essentially a playful spin on a myth — or a TV version of a legend.
The U.S. Cavalry carries out massacres, “progress” is an act of venal destruction and corruption and “stupid white man” is the inscrutably eccentric Tonto's favorite putdown.
No, this is not John Wayne's Old West.
It's all in service of a tall tale being told by an ancient Indian (Johnny Depp) who may or may not be Tonto, a sideshow attraction who spins this yarn to a little boy (Mason Cook) wearing a Lone Ranger get-up in a fair in 1930s San Francisco. Tonto remembers the days of yore when he rode sidekick to the masked man.
Gore Verbinski's film is an overlong array of noisy, digitally assisted chases, shootouts, crashes and explosions, with the occasional flash of homage to the “real” Lone Ranger that suggests a better movie than the pricey, jumbled compromise Verbinski delivered.
Armie Hammer is John Reid, the new Colby, Texas, district attorney who witnesses the latest and last heroic act of his lawman brother (James Badge Dale), who has “saved the day, as usual.”
Brother Dan is killed by the vile Butch Cavendish (William Fitchner) and lawyer Reid is left for dead. But he isn't, and when Tonto (who has escaped from the law, charged with being an “Indian”) sees the white horse that saved Reid, he decides that this stranger is a ranger — or “spirit warrior” who cannot be killed. And if justice is to be done, this spirit warrior will need to hide his identity.
There's a railroad being pushed through, shortcuts being taken in Indian territory by conspiracists whom you just know include fat cat Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson). Somebody's got to mount up, put on a mask and sets things to right. (“Who was that masked man?”)
Hammer strikes just the right note — naive, valiant and in over his head. It is, of course, Depp's movie, and the quirks he piles onto poor Tonto make Capt. Jack Sparrow look mild-mannered by comparison. One gag that works: His fellow tribesmen disavow Tonto, whose makeup and mannerisms are too eccentric, even for them.
Heroic moments scored to “The William Tell Overture” still have the power to thrill. Everyone in this setting is seriously sun-baked and weathered, a nice touch of authenticity. And many of the jokey predicaments — Tonto and Reid buried up to their necks, Tonto and the Lone Ranger forced to rob a bank, Tonto's attempt to warn his blundering captors of their doom or Reid's “burial” at the top of a rickety tower — pay off hilariously.
Then Fitchner's villain does something bloody-minded and psychotic, Wilkinson's villain crosses a line no sane man would cross, or Barry Pepper shows up doing a pompous based-on-Custer impersonation with an idea for wiping out the Red Man.
And the cheerful cartoon this might have been goes all dark and dismal.
Roger Moore reviews movies for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.