BY VAN ROBERTS
“The Lone Ranger” (*** OUT OF ****) is an entertaining but outlandish western spoof about the origins of the protagonist told from the perspective of his faithful Indian companion Tonto. Since westerns are neither popular nor fashionable, Walt Disney Pictures and producer Jerry Bruckheimer must have felt that the only way to treat the subject matter without alienating audiences was to emphasize comedy. Just about everybody I know has referred to it as “Pirates of the Caribbean” on the western frontier. The comparison seems apt, too. Director Gore Verbinski helmed the first three “Pirates” epics. Johnny Depp starred in them, too. Interestingly, Depp’s Tonto emerges as a far more tragic but sympathetic figure than Captain Jack Sparrow. Some of the larger-than-life shenanigans, particularly the agile display of horsemanship atop a fast-moving train, can be attributed to co-scenarists Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. Not only did they write “The Mask of Zorro,” but they also penned “The Legend of Zorro.” Antonio Banderas galloped his black stallion atop a trundling train, too. Elliot and Rossio also wrote “Alladin,” “Small Soldiers,” and the first three “Pirates” movies. A third scenarist, Justin Haythe of “Snitch” and “Revolutionary Road,” contributed to this sprawling saga. Mind you, Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger is nothing like Clayton Moore’s Masked Man. Moore debuted as the eponymous character in the ABC-TV series “The Lone Ranger” back in 1949. He wore the mask longer than any other actor. Clayton Moore registered so deeply in the American psyche as the Masked Man that his clash with the copyright holders in 1981 about wearing the mask yielded enough bad publicity to sink “The Legend of the Lone Ranger.” Apart from the WB Network, the Lone Ranger hasn’t fired any silver slugs since 2003. Verbinski and his scribes poke fun at the most important convention of The Lone Ranger: the mask. None of the previous Rangers worried about the mask. Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger feels self-conscious about the mask and doesn’t understand its significance. Everybody who encounters the Lone Ranger asks him about the mask.
“The Lone Ranger” opens in San Francisco in 1933. A little boy in a cowboy outfit, hat, vest, mask, and matching cap pistols pays for a ticket to see a Wild West Show. He stares at a number of exhibits, such as the buffalo, and then he meets a replica of a Noble Savage. At this point, in the tradition of the “Night at the Museum,” the Indian surprises him and speaks. A wizened Tonto (Johnny Depp of “Blow”) wears a black bird atop his head and looks like he should be at the Happy Hunting Ground. He recognizes his old partner, the Lone Ranger, and blows the little guy’s mind so much that the kid whips out a cap pistol and blasts away. Afterward, Tonto settles down to chronicle the legend of the Lone Ranger. John Reid (Armie Hammer of “The Social Network”) has acquired a law degree and is returning home to Colby, Texas, to serve as the county prosecutor. At the same time, treacherous railroad executive Lathan Cole (Tom Wilkerson of “The Green Hornet”) has pulled strings so he can hang one of the most notorious outlaws, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner of “Heat”), wherever he wants as a warning to other desperadoes. Awaiting the train at the station is John’s older brother Dan (James Badge Dale of “World War Z”). John and Dan’s father served with the Texas Rangers. Dan and his wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) watch in horror as the train derails. A huge lever designed to spin the wheels of the locomotive tumbles end-over-end from the sky and narrowly misses our heroes. When we meet the chief villain, Butch Cavendish, this murderer is chained to the floor of a freight car. Tonto sits nearby and watches as the outlaw finds a six-gun stashed under a plank. Cavendish behaves like an unsavory villain. He shoots both of sentries without a qualm. Impetuous John Reid manages to get the drop on him. Nevertheless, Cavendish escapes, and our heroes barely get off the train in time to save themselves. Dan forms a posse and tosses John his father’s Texas Rangers badge. Basically, John behaves like every western tinhorn that you’ve ever seen on the big-screen. Dan’s trustworthy scout Collins (Leon Rippy of “Stargate”) betrays the Rangers and leads them into an ambush. Everybody gets shot to ribbons. The depraved Cavendish turns out to be a cannibal, but he isn’t shown chowing down. Meantime, John is shot twice, passes out, and appears dead for all practical purposes. Tonto finds him later and tries to bury him. At one point, a mysterious white stallion materializes and scrapes its hoof across John Reid’s Ranger badge. Afterward, Cavendish kidnaps Dan’s widow Rebecca and her son Danny. Eventually, Cavendish orders Collins to finish them off.
“The Lone Ranger” occurs against the scenic backdrop of American history during the construction of the transcontinental railroad. The infamous Cavendish and Cole are playing for high stakes. They have struck it rich with silver mine and excavated over $30 million worth of ore. Rather than remain content as a minor railway executive, Cole mounts a hostile takeover of the railway company while orchestrating the annihilation of the Comanche Indian nation. John Reid bumbles along for the first 90 minutes trying to convince himself he can be a man of action. Verbinski pulls out all stops late in this 149 minute melodrama when he stages a chase between two trains. This incredible railway sequence is reminiscent of the unforgettable stunts that silent movie star Buster Keaton pulled off in “The General.” Finally, near the end of the movie, John Reid understands why he must never remove the mask. He also realizes why he can never have a relationship with Rebecca. As corrupt as society is, the only way to combat this corruption is to be an outlaw. Altogether, despite its titanic length, “The Lone Ranger” has no shortage of death-defying exploits or spectacular desert scenery.
BY VAN ROBERTS