If you go
“The Lone Ranger,” rated PG-13
Rating: 1.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 149 minutes
Starring: Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson and William Fichtner
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.
Steamboat Springs The use of the locomotive within the classic Western is a timeless theme with the whistle of the engine and the unstoppable force on the tracks headed toward a new frontier. Still, as much symbolism may be inherent in the idea of the train, the only imagery appropriate within “The Lone Ranger” is that pounding a railroad spike into your ear would be about as fun as watching such a movie.
In 1869, the assembly of the Transcontinental Railroad primes the United States toward a future where people can travel and transport goods coast to coast faster than ever imagined. For idealistic attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer), the new system reconnects him with his lawman brother Dan (James Badge Dale), in Colby, Texas, as well as Dan’s wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), who just happens to be John’s former love.
Those awkward recollections will have to wait, however, when John is quickly deputized by his sibling to ride with the Texas Rangers and apprehend notorious criminal Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). But the scoundrel of the desert and his gang already are a step ahead of them, ambushing and slaughtering the entire posse with the exception of John.
Left to die, he’s saved by a Comanche named Tonto (Johnny Depp) who seems convinced that even with his complete lack of outdoor survival skills, John is a “spirit walker” who’s destined to bring their mutual enemy to justice and ultimately restore righteousness to a lawless land.
Here’s the trouble with Tonto: Ever since his inception 80 years ago, he’s been the perfect example of Native Americans relegated to a subservient and simplistic sidekick role, a fact Jay Silverheels had to live with long after his time on the famed TV show was finished. Here, they have the chance to make up for decades of broken English and “yes, boss” moments by giving us a character who’s on equal footing with his Anglo companion, but that opportunity is botched with the casting of a guy with maybe one Native American descendant.
Depp does what he does best with a Tonto who’s sharp-tongued, vengeful and a little nutty, his face always caked in war paint and a dead crow perched on his head. He’s much more intriguing than Jake Gyllenhaal in the equally cumbersome “Prince of Persia,” but how many times can Disney shove white actors in our faces where they don’t belong?
Hammer isn’t much better as the title figure, with his origin portrayed as that of a bumbling dandy who doesn’t believe in guns until he’s forced to shoot one, albeit a piece with silver bullets melted from the badges of his late fellow Rangers. There’s only so many ways to look dumbfounded when everyone stares at you and asks, “What’s with the mask?”
Fichtner at least makes a good villain as the treacherous Cavendish, a cannibalistic varmint who gets uglier by the moment with a permanent sneer scarred on his face and hair unwashed since the Civil War.
The last time you saw locks that greasy, Depp was wearing them in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and director Gore Verbinski apparently wants to give us the idea that those two sagas are connected despite a 100-year gap and a transplant to the Wild West. The same style of manic action coupled with a grimy look is all well and good, but what kind of worked for Capt. Jack Sparrow — depending how big of a “Pirates” fan you might be — is not befitting the Lone Ranger.
Just as in the embarrassingly bad remake of “The Green Hornet” the attempt to update an American icon goes in the entirely wrong direction. Besides reaching for laughs where they’re not needed, certain elements continually push the boundaries of what makes good family entertainment.
Gone are the days when adults and children could gather around the radio or TV and take in an exciting half-hour adventure, instead being subjected to a bloated story that wavers rapidly between overly cautious, modern PC undertones and that of the cowboy tales of yesteryear where a term like “Injun” was acceptable.
The Four Corners shooting locations and rousing third act of “The Lone Ranger” keep it from being a complete failure, but its many downfalls make it impossible to like, let alone respect. Hint: Whenever you hear the strains of the “William Tell Overture,” that’s the time to watch. The rest of the time, you’d be better off just sticking your fingers in your ears and staring at the ceiling.
Andy Bockelman is a Craig resident, freelance writer and Denver Film Critics Society accredited film fanatic who occasionally reviews movies playing in Northwest Colorado.