If you have missed Captain Jack Sparrow since seeing him in the last installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (2011’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”), fear not, because he makes his long awaited return to the silver screen in what has apparently been dubbed The Lone Ranger. And luckily for director Gore Verbinski, Sparrow’s humor is brought to life again by Johnny Depp (“Dark Shadows”), only this time through the Comanche Indian sidekick, Tonto. Rest assured that is the only saving grace to this astutely predictable under-performing “blockbuster.”
Verbinski’s interpretation of The Lone Ranger, originally a radio series of the same name, begins with a young boy (Mason Cook) wandering through a San Francisco fair in 1933, to find an exhibit of the history of the Wild West. He comes across a Native American piece, where a seemingly old statue of an “Indian Savage” stands stoutly, battle ax in hand. But when the exhibit comes to life, and is revealed to be an old Tonto (Depp), he begins to tell the story of the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer, “Mirror Mirror), because the boy was wearing the bullet-pierced mask that the Texas lawman once sported.
Shifting back to 1869, after a semi-interesting train robbery sequence, the story focuses in on the Texas Rangers’ pursuit of a crafty outlaw, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner, “Drive Angry”) due to the demands of a powerful railroad tycoon named Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”). The chase ends in a hail of bullets, one of which gravely wounds a recent law school graduate, John Reid (Hammer) who was accompanying the lawmen and another that lends to him a burning desire for revenge.
Nursing him back to life is the quirky Indian, Tonto, who himself is on a quest for vengeance after a scarring incident as a child. It doesn’t take long for the two to realize their goals are one and the same even if their methods for exacting revenge differ (Reid, initially believes in the power of the courts, Tonto prefers a good scalping). Together, they ride through the western countryside with justice as their motivator, seeking to bring down a railroad company that naturally develops a lust for power and a U.S. Cavalry that blindly follows orders of the greedy.
Though it sounds like The Lone Ranger has a captivating script, it becomes dull and profoundly unrealistic in the final hour. Instead of focusing in on the Western elements they took the time to craft in the first hour (with limited success), the writing trio of Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio elect instead to switch gears and push the film into “race against the clock” thriller territory (with even less success). And to cover-up the lack of any real character development, they overuse action gimmicks, especially when they can take place on a moving train.
Two areas to compliment amongst the production values, however, are the cinematography and costume design. Bojan Bazelli develops an extremely lifelike Wild West that will leave viewers wanting to strap on some spurs and walk on down to the saloon or ride a horse through gorgeous sprawling canyons. And while probably not the most difficult of periods to reproduce clothing for, Penny Rose does a fine job playing dress-up the Cowboys and Indians.
Oh yeah, and if it wasn’t for the golden tongue of casting director Denise Chamian who somehow persuaded Johnny Depp to star, The Lone Ranger would have been damn near impossible to remain seated through for all its 149 minute, but feels like 249 minute, run time. He has perfected this distinctive character type and Armie Hammer does not have the presence to command the screen or wear the famous black eye mask (although now and then they do share a good riff together).
From my perspective, it’s clear the stop-and-go production and cost over-runs have affected The Lone Ranger. It’s sloppy and rushed, and the iconic lawman is deserving of more than a few locomotive crashes and cornfed jokes. But if you’re willing to sit through a below-average summer film about justice, corruption and 19th century railroads, this fits the bill. Just be warned kemosabe, like riding a horse bareback, it’s a mostly tough sit.