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Lone Ranger, The (3D)

4/10

Stars: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper, Mason Cook, JD Cullum, Saginaw Grant, Harry Treadaway, James Frain, Leon Rippy, Rance Howard

Director: Gore Verbinski

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer created a hit franchise and made a massive fortune by bringing an animatronic Disneyland ride to celluloid life as The Pirates of the Caribbean series. Now he reunites Pirates star Johnny Depp and its director Gore Verbinski and creates a turkey big enough to upstage every single Thanksgiving Dinner in the history of the United States.

It took screenwriters (Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio) to bloat the legendary radio and television series into the all-over-the-place screenplay that showcases the sidekick Tonto rather than the masked hero The Lone Ranger.

Big mistake!

That switch in emphasis allows Depp (also doubling as one of the posse of producers) to cash in on his Native American heritage to play Tonto and tell his story which has the Native American hero-to-be helping lawman John Reid, played with a commendably straight face by Armie Hammer (best known, perhaps, as FBI chief J Edgar Hoover’s gay lover Clyde Tolson in Clint Eastwood’s biopic J Edgar) from “a man of the law, into a legend of justice”.

A wrinkled Native American exhibit – “The Noble Savage in his Natural Habitat“ - in a Wild West fairground exhibit in 1933 San Francisco comes to life (the make-up is excellent) as Depp, who tells a naďve youngster his story, warns the kid “Never take off your mask” and, hungry as hell, trades a dead mouse for the lad’s peanuts. (1933, incidentally, was the year The Lone Ranger made its radio debut, on a Detroit station).

Cue an addled mixture of vividly staged action, dire dialogue and, from Depp, sporting ludicrous black and white facial make-up and a dead bird on his head, cue Buster Keaton-style comic action capers, well enough performed but mostly out of synch with a story that alleges to recreate the 19th century Wild West but instead simply uses it as the background to showcase Depp.

The action mostly works well enough, with terrific leaping-on-and-off-speeding trains stunts and exciting Perils of Pauline thrills involving a runaway railway engine. Unfortunately Depp’s characterization of a noble Comanche becomes increasingly irritating because of the constant injection of not that funny comic content. (When Hammer is towed along the prairie behind Depp who is riding the legendary stallion Silver, Hammer’s head is pulled through a huge pile of horse dung.

Laugh? I tried. I failed.

Disneyesque ‘comedy’ intrudes to little effect as far as the addled narrative goes, when, after watching watch Depp and Hammer roasting a rabbit on the range for their supper, a bunch of rabbits turn nasty and attack the diners.

Other ‘try anything and everything’ ingredients include a brothel with a wickedly underused Helena Bonham Carter amply filling the role of Madam in a low cut red gown and endowing the film with some genuine comedy, only to disappear until the climax when her leg turns out to be a useful firearm (or should that be fireleg?).

Western elements include the unpleasant sequence of villain William Fichtner graphically disemboweling Hammer’s brother James Badge Dale (and yet the film was awarded a 12A certifcate), Hammer and Depp ending up buried up to their necks in sand in the desert with scorpions crawling over their faces and, worst of all, appallingly-cast Tom Wilkinson sensibly hiding behind a beard and hamming away as the villain of the piece, a bad performance made even poorer by his usual inability to assume an American accent.

Depp might have improved the bloated and rapidly tedious affair by shooting Wilkinson as soon as he made his first appearance. Sadly he didn’t. In the final analysis, though it’s Rossini’s familiar William Tell overture that rides to the rescue and steals the second rate Saturday Morning Serial style show.

When Hammer asked, “How could this be worse?”, I sadly failed to think of an effective answer.

Alan Frank

USA 2013. UK Distributor: Disney. Colour by deluxe.
149 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 03 Aug 2013