Alas, The Lone Ranger, while decent enough old-fashioned entertainment, is a bit of a lone star film. Johnny Depp takes sole star billing above the title as Tonto, leaving poor Armie Hammer in an also-ran second place when he should be the proper star of this comedy western. Why didn’t Depp play The Lone Ranger and get a Native American actor to play Tonto?
Now when I say comedy western, I don’t mean Blazing Saddles or Carry on Cowboy. I mean more Django Unchained. A serious western with some comedy. But here the two elements don’t gel and cohere. It’s like two films running on parallel lines, like the two trains on neighbouring tracks at the film’s climax. The two eventually don’t meet but then they crash.
Neither half is particularly good or particularly bad. The comedy’s a bit lame and weedy but well enough staged and performed and the western story is pretty routine and unsurprising but well enough staged and performed. The framing story of an ancient Tonto coming to life in a museum and telling his story to a little boy dressed as the Lone Ranger should be charming but it’s only a distraction and time filler, adding more running time to an already way over-length movie.
Getting slacker and slacker after Pirates of the Caribbean, and wearing acres of mascara again, plus other bizarre makeup, and a dead bird on his head (don’t ask me why), a still-likeable and appealing Depp has all the comedy of course. It’s a tribute to his skills and popularity that he can get some big laughs with some quite weak lines. Though it’s very dodgy that he gets to play the Indian ‘noble savage’ Tonto, quarrelsome sidekick to the great white man of a hero, John Reid, now turned into a masked righter-of-wrongs, former idealistic attorney and US Ranger, The Lone Ranger. The duo join the Rangers on the trail of the evil Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and his gang and set out to bring him to justice.
The 6’ 5” Hammer looks right in his white Stetson and little black mask that ironically provides no disguise whatsoever. But he has the far more difficult task of the two stars, making a basically boring, one-note character exciting and appealing. That he does the job pretty darned well is big kudos to him.
It’s a Disney film but surprisingly it’s very violent, with loads of shootings, maimings and deaths. They should have it kept it light and bright and much more fun. There’s an air of weary cynicism around when what’s needed is bright-eyed innocence. The Lone Ranger’s a product of a simpler time, and clean, simple, wholesome entertainment in homage to the old TV show was the route to go. The Lone Ranger’s values are out of synch with ours and some significance as well as humour could profitably have come from this.