Review: The Lone Ranger

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The Lone RangerDo you know what "Tonto" means in Spanish?  Apparently in Disney it means "Native American Jack Sparrow," because Johnny Depp's character in The Lone Ranger is a carbon copy of the colorful captain from the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Strange, kooky demeanor, operates based on mysterious motives, always has a plan, scorned by his peers, works alone, manipulative, always making trades -- all these traits describe both characters.

There are many other ways director Gore Verbinski appears to have been working from his own notes on the Pirates series: fight choreography like swinging from a rope around a pole, a character playing with a watch much like Sparrow played with a compass, both characters end up in jail cells early in the movie, characters fight atop trains on parallel tracks reminiscent of ships, one of the bad guys likes to dress in women's clothing. If all that weren't enough, Tonto wears a bird on his head, as if to say "Get it? It's a bird, like a sparrow." (Entertainment Weekly has the skinny on the actual inspiration for the character design.)

As a childhood fan of the Lone Ranger, I enjoyed this adaptation scripted by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (two of whom also happen to be veterans of the Pirates series). The Lone Ranger is receiving no love from critics, but in spite of several weaknesses -- including a runtime of 149 minutes --I found much to enjoy. The film may find appreciation at the box office this holiday weekend -- after all, it's working from a well-established formula.

First, the movie is beautifully shot, from the opening scene in 1933 San Francisco (including an homage to The Red Balloon) all across the Old West. Armie Hammer, who is second-billed though playing the title character, is passable but generally unremarkable in the role opposite William Fichtner, who is doing some of his best work as the fiendish ringleader Butch Cavendish, one of the more compelling villians seen in a Disney film.

Helena Bonham Carter has a lot of fun with her role as brothel owner Red Harrington, a madame with a very special talent, and it's always a pleasure when Stephen Root appears, no matter how small the role.

The Lone Ranger suffered from numerous production setbacks delaying its release including the death of a cast member, and with an estimated budget of $250 million must be the most expensive Western ever produced. It shows int he finished film with a disjointed, incohesive structure, a critical complaint that the average moviegoer might not notice.

The script is actually fun and entirely a vehicle for Depp, who strikes a clever balance between metaphysical and just crazy, dropping cute one-liners and occasional anachronistic references.  Love it or leave it, Depp is what Disney is counting on to bring in an audience, and that audience expecting him to do his thing should not be disappointed. I give The Lone Ranger four out of five silver bullets.