Maintaining the “Pirates of the Caribbean” tradition of leaving absolutely nothing out, “The Lone Ranger” is hiding a fun, tightly constructed action-adventure inside a bloated behemoth. If director Gore Verbinski dropped 30 to 45 minutes out of its running time, “The Lone Ranger” might have galloped away with the summer movie season, but at 2
hours, it can barely get done what the old TV episodes accomplished in 30 minutes or less.
The things that work are worth seeing, such as the film’s framing device in which a young boy named Will (played by Oklahoma City’s Mason Cook) visits a San Francisco sideshow in 1933 and is told the legend by the elderly Tonto (Johnny Depp in fairly convincing makeup). This was the actual fate of many Old West heroes, and the setting commemorates the year that the original radio serial debuted.
The action then flashes back half a century to the dusty and nearly lawless frontier, where notorious criminal Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner, hungrily chewing the scenery) threatens the completion of the transcontinental railroad as well as the family of U.S. Attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer of “The Social Network”). Cavendish gets the upper hand after a stunning chase through a speeding train, and after a series of dirty tricks and supernatural events, John is pressed into wearing the legendary mask, joining Tonto in hunting down Cavendish and trying to save Reid’s sister-in-law (Ruth Wilson of BBC’s “Luther”) and nephew (Bryant Prince).
But “The Lone Ranger” would be far more thrilling if Verbinski would just let this fairly simple story unfold. Instead, he and screenwriter Justin Haythe take unnecessary side trips and introduce extraneous characters such as Red (Helena Bonham Carter), the bordello madam with an ingeniously rigged scrimshaw leg. “The Lone Ranger” is covered with as many filigrees as Red’s prosthetic — flashy extravagances that distract from the story at hand.
Beyond the old-timey, combustible action, Depp has a lot of fun with his performance as an eccentric Comanche loner who has a hard time believing that John is the right man to ride Silver, and Hammer is suitably earnest as the man who becomes the Lone Ranger.
But this update of the old radio and television serials needs more than judicial editing — “The Lone Ranger” could use a big, brutal cut, because it does not earn its epic length. It turns out those days of yesteryear were so thrilling because they moved fast, but this long “Ranger” gets lost in the West.
— George Lang