'The Lone Ranger' is wit-free and derivative

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

'The Lone Ranger' actor Johnny Depp looks like he'd rather be somewhere else, and the contrast between Depp and Armie Hammer's Lone Ranger character isn't interesting.

Peter Mountain/Disney/AP
'The Lone Ranger' stars Johnny Depp (l.) and Armie Hammer (r.).

When “The Lone Ranger” was halted during pre-production in 2011 because Disney thought its $250 million budget was too high, the shock waves rocked Hollywood. A Johnny Depp movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer was halted? Can the apocalypse be far behind?

Cooler heads prevailed and a budget of $215 million was agreed upon. Now that “The Lone Ranger” is a reality, all I can say is that they shouldn’t have bothered. It may clean up at the box office – to make a profit, it better  – but as a slam-bang entertainment, it’s overlong, repetitive, derivative, and essentially wit-free.

Depp is Tonto, sporting goofy headgear topped by a giant stuffed crow, and Armie Hammer is the Lone Ranger, a city-educated lawyer who returns to his small Texas hometown in 1869 to civilize the inhabitants and ends up teaming with Tonto to battle the nefarious Cavendish gang after his Ranger brother is killed.

Director Gore Verbinski and Bruckheimer, both of whom worked with Depp on the “Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, are clearly trying for another Depp annuity here. It’s nice that Tonto isn’t relegated to obvious sidekick status as he was in the 1950s TV series, but he might as well be since he is given nothing interesting to do. Depp mugs and mutters a lot, makes funny little squiggles with his mouth, overdoes the double takes, and in general acts as if he’d rather be somewhere else. He probably knows that if this film is a hit he’s locked into yet another silly franchise that will, like “Pirates” but only more so, waste his shape-shifty talents. Just say no.

Hammer plays the Lone Ranger as a clueless, stolid square, and the resulting contrast with Depp’s cartoonishness isn’t odd-couple funny, just blah. Meanwhile, Verbinski keeps ticking off the movie references: "The Wild Bunch,” “Little Big Man,” "The General,” the collected works of John Ford etc. Greatness by association? Hardly. Grade: C- (Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material.)

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