Heed a couple of warnings about ‘The Lone Ranger’

By Gary Clift

Only the hard-hearted could dismiss the attractions of the new film “The Lone Ranger.” It had SO much money spent on it and it runs SO long and it is SO good-humored that watching most of it is sort of fun. I got a couple of laughs out of it. The suspense worked, which is usually a sign that the characters are sympathetic.

But the big, anxious-to-please project is also SO VERY artificial and that lull about two-thirds of the way through the huge movie is SO dull—a virtual horse latitudes of a slow-down—that I don’t want to send you off to the theater without a couple of warnings about what you’re going to see.

First of all, the movie revels in its own carny side-show fakeness. Gore Verbinski, the movie’s director, is relying on the same odd, blatant tone he used in his three Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The hero and cause are all right, but the threats to them are as gothic and crumbling as the make-up on the villains’ faces. And on the face of Johnny Depp, who seems to be wearing a pound of mud pack as he acts the Tonto part.

Then we have the cliches. If you’ve never been to a Western movie, have never seen one on TV, and have never read a Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey novel, you only need to sit through a showing of “The Lone Ranger” to become acquainted with every single stock plot device in the history of the genre. Every one, pardner.

Which is not to say viewers learn any Western history watching the film. Probably EVERY historic detail in the movie is wrong. Here’s an example: the film is set in West Texas in 1869, and railroads from the coasts are meeting there for a sort of Golden Spike joining ceremony. If the railroads came to Texas in the 1860s, why did cattlemen drive herds north to Kansas for the next thirty years?

On the plus side, the plot, which is the old Lone Ranger origin story (with some additions to explain Tonto’s motivations) has always been a pretty good one, dramatic and with some decent action. It explains why one Texas Ranger surviving a desert ambush and helped by a single mounted Indian ends up wearing a mask and wandering the West fighting for justice.

The big action scenes, both of them occurring James Bond-like on moving trains, are also satisfactory. The one late in the film is so thoroughly developed that “The William Tell Overture,” which has for a long time been the theme music of Lone Ranger entertainments, has had to be extended until it is long enough to cover all the running and shooting and jumping.

The cast is good enough. Armie Hammer, grandson of philanthropist and businessman Armand Hammer, is exemplary as the slightly too-good title character. The younger Hammer played the twins in “The Social Network,” you may remember.

Depp plays Tonto as if he were Slim Pickins in “Blazing Saddles.” That is his tone. All is profound silliness. Usually he is fairly effective here. Tom Wilkinson is pretty subtle as the chief villain. Helena Bonham Carter is a bordello-running heroine with a gun in her ivory peg-leg.

Duck-billed Ruth Wilson is fine as the love interest. William Fitchner (even with a big permanent sneer) and Barry Peppers (playing the cavalry captain) are enough alike that I found myself marveling at their similarity instead of watching the picture.

But the thing about “The Lone Ranger” that one has to forgive, really, is its swoon. It gets talky in its middle and slows down by stages until with most of an hour left, it is absolutely without a pulse. The trouble is exacerbated by the film’s length—almost two and a half hours not including previews. Verbinski could easily have cut out the frame story, about a much older Tonto recalling the events to a kid, and would have improved the movie doing so.

As it is one is tired by the time the story sags. And so one really has to enjoy the final fight on the moving train to come away from the theater convinced that “The Lone Ranger” was worth sitting through.

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