Not to give anything crucial away, but “The Lone Ranger” essentially ends with a train wreck. After two and a half hours of this lackluster, over-plotted, tonally inconsistent, over-produced train wreck of a movie, it seems curiously fitting, though not at all surprising. Indeed, way too little in director Gore Verbinski’s recasting of the popular 1950s TV show surprises, with the possible exception of the odd laugh line scattered here and there. It’s now available on DVD: presumably, the producers hope to salvage some money from the wreckage that followed its theatrical release last summer.
Viewers of a certain age demographic may dimly recall that the TV original was not exactly chock full of yuks. As played by Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, the masked man and his faithful Indian sidekick were the ultimate straight men. (Even Roy Rogers and Gene Autry had their comic moments, if my failing memory serves.) Here, from the moment of his appearance in a 1933 Wild West show, Tonto (Johnny Depp) is an oddball with a dead bird on his head. As he relates his story to a fascinated youngster through multiple flashbacks, he gets even odder. For most of the movie, he is the dominant figure of this anti-heroic pair, The Ranger becoming something of a doofus, a tenderfoot whom Tonto has to school in the Ways of the West.
Even Silver — here a “Spirit Horse” who appears mysteriously and performs some super-equine stunts — is smarter than his rider and, perhaps, Tonto himself. The magical mount is part of the transformation of John Reid (Armie Hammer) from lawyer and John Locke reader into hard ridin’, straight shootin’ nemesis of bad guys. His counterpart, the villainous Butch Cavendish (the handsome William Fichtner under a ton of makeup that makes his face into five miles of really bad road) has an appetite for human hearts that galls even his gang of outlaws. These worthies include a transvestite wannabe among their number: I am not making this up.
Cavendish is, again no surprise, in league with railroad man Cole (Tom Wilkinson), an upright sort who has a thing for the soon-to-be-widowed wife of John’s brother, Dan (the auspiciously named James Badge Dale). Dan is an actual Texas Ranger whose business keeps him on the road a lot, leaving his wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) and young son, Danny (Bryant Prince), to mind the ranch just across the river from Comanche Territory. His dying wish is that John take care of them, not a big problem as John has always admired her from afar.
It is, however, one of the myriad problems for the movie, adding one more plot element to an already bloated story. Verbinski and six credited screenwriters love to throw in anachronisms, sometimes to presumed comic effect, as in the repeated line, “What’s with the mask?” (They have also shifted Monument Valley considerably to the east, making the corpse of John Ford do several revolutions in his grave.) Thematically, they want to make this into an ecological warning tale, perhaps most notably embodied by a herd of cannibalistic, scorpion-munching bunnies. Again, that is not a typo. Oh, and corporate greed comes in for a timely thrashing, too.
Rated a pretty liberal “PG-13,” the movie may actually be boring to most subteens: even its action sequences turn tedious, some heavy duty stunt work and computer-generated wizardry notwithstanding. Verbinski has employed this same stuffing in the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” series, which have grown increasingly overwrought as the budgets have ballooned. That he is capable of a lean, witty homage to the classic Westerns is demonstrated by 2011’s Oscar-winning animated feature, “Rango,” one of my favorite movies of that year. Avoid spending any holiday money renting this distasteful disaster of an anti-homage. Let The Ranger rest in peace, as Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer should have.