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"THE LONE RANGER"
(2013) (Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Adventure: A mid-19th century Texas Ranger and a Comanche Indian become unlikely partners as they try to track down a villain.
PLOT:
It's 1933 and a boy is wandering through a carnival display about the old West. In that, he finds what he believes to be a wax figure of "the noble savage" but that turns out to be a very aged Comanche Indian, Tonto (JOHNNY DEPP). He then proceeds to tell the boy his tale that takes us back to Colby, Texas in 1869 when railroad executive Lathan Cole (TOM WILKINSON) is continuing the westward expansion of his company's rail line.

On one of those trains is educated lawman John Reid (ARMIE HAMMER) who's returning to his former home town where he once had a thing with Rebecca (RUTH WILSON). She's now married to his Texas Ranger brother, Dan (JAMES BADGE DALE), with whom they have a boy, Danny (BRYANT PRINCE). Dan's waiting for the arrival of the outlaw Butch Cavendish (WILLIAM FICHTNER) -- on that same train and chained next to Tonto (JOHNNY DEPP) -- in order to process and hang him. But Butch's gang shows up, frees him and sets off into the vast wilderness.

Dan deputizes John to assist in his capture, but a resultant shoot-out leaves everyone dead but John who ends up discovered by Tonto. The two become an unlikely and occasionally squabbling team as they try to track down the outlaw, a quest that eventually involves cavalryman Capt. Fuller (BARRY PEPPER) and madam Red Harrington (HELENA BONHAM CARTER) who runs the local brothel.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Say what you will about the Internet, but it's a treasure trove of seemingly endless discoveries of new things you never knew about. For instance, while doing a little research on this week's release of "The Lone Ranger" -- the masked ex-Texas Ranger who first appeared in a 1933 radio show -- I discovered that "The Green Hornet" was actually a spin-off from that story.

It makes sense in hindsight -- what with the tales featuring masked crime-fighters and their trusty ethnic sidekicks -- but then again I was more of a fan of "Star Trek" and even the camp of "Lost in Space" and "Batman" than those two other TV shows ("Ranger" starring Clayton Moore) when I was growing up and seeing all of them in their early syndication runs.

I'm not sure why "The Lone Ranger" didn't entice me more back then. After all, we religiously watched "The Wild Wild West," "Gunsmoke" and "Bonanza," other Western-themed and set stories from yesteryear. But for some reason the exploits of the titular crime fighter, his buddy Tonto and the equine Silver didn't particularly grab and hold my attention. I watched the episodes for sure, but couldn't tell you much about them now beyond the signature "Hi-Yo, Silver, Away!" catchphrase along with the William Tell Overture score.

Thus, when I heard another big screen version of the character was being made, it neither excited me nor drove me to outrageous indignation that the powers that be would tamper with the past legendary (and some not so) adaptations. What did have me both interested yet concerned, however, was that director Gore Verbinski would be at the helm and Johnny Deep would star as the sidekick, not surprisingly once again putting an eccentric spin on a character he'd embody.

For those not up on all things Hollywood, the Verbinski-Depp connection is notable because they together made the "Pirates of the Caribbean" flicks such a huge success. The first was a brilliant theme park ride adaptation, of all things, with the director delivering an infectiously fun popcorn flick and the actor creating one of his more memorable personas in Capt. Jack Sparrow. Alas, the film was a big success and spawned two sequels that didn't quite capture the magic of the original.

While it's hard to predict how this film will do (Westerns or at least Western related flicks are notoriously hard to handicap in terms of box office might), I can report that it's neither brilliant nor horrible. It's just sort of there, with some fun bursts of energy and comedy helping offset a predictable plot and far too long running time (nearly two and a half hours). At least it's not in 3D.

With the production in turmoil for years due to personnel scheduling issues and budget concerns (with many involved reportedly taking a pay cut to get this summer studio tent pole off the ground), the film offers the standard origins sort of story for the character. Not being familiar with any of that preexisting material in that regard (if it ever existed), I can't say if any of it's faithful to the source, but scribes Justin Haythe and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio have concocted a decent enough story to get the job done.

After an intro part featuring Tonto introducing his tale to a young boy, the plot heads back several decades (although it occasionally returns to this scene for moments of clarification). As a nearly unrecognizable William Fichtner (or at least the villainous character he plays onscreen) is transported to a town for a public hanging, John Reid (Armie Hammer) is in the same train, unaware that he's about to be thrown into hero mode and later become the title character. As is oft the case in Westerns, the bad guy's gang rides up to free their leader who's shackled next to a Comanche (that being Depp doing his own signature take on Tonto).

A slew of action follows, John's brother eventually ends up dead, and Reid and Tonto become unlikely traveling companions who both want Butch Cavendish (a terrific villainous name, by the way). Throw in a potential/past love interest (Ruth Wilson), an ambitious westward expansion railroad man (Tom Wilkinson), a late to arrive cavalryman (Barry Pepper) and a madam (a mostly wasted and unnecessary Helena Bonham Carter, save for the surprise up her skirt -- get your mind out of the gutter) and there are a lot of balls in the air for Verbinski to juggle.

Although the plot didn't blow me away as it's too predictable, the chemistry between Hammer and Depp works, even if some viewers might not like the somewhat comically bumbling hero the former plays and/or might view Depp's portrayal as offensive (although it's not, at least intentionally). In terms of Western style action, the film delivers the goods, with the final action sequence being quite fun (and might even get a nod from Jackie Chan for some of the outrageous stunts contained within).

And with the latter featuring the familiar notes of Mr. Tell's Overture, you'll have to be a stick in the mud not to be swept up in the moment. While I would have preferred the overall flick to have possessed more of that aura throughout, or at least passed through the editing bay a few times to trim some of the excess cinematic fat, this turns out to be a decent reintroduction to the character. Let's just hope the principals make it even better in the second outing rather than following the downward "Pirates" trajectory. "The Lone Ranger" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed June 26, 2013 / Posted July 3, 2013


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