While only just released in the UK and still yet to open in a number of other territories The Lone Ranger is looking to lose Disney - by its own admission - $190 million. The film-makers have been quoted as blaming the critics. If I may be included in that critical fraternity, it’s flattering that they think we wield such power. There have been more than a few critically-lambasted stinkers that have made pots of cash. Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Titanic were not noted for kind appraisals yet they still made over a billion dollars, as did two execrable Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. Of the latter, that same team - star Johnny Depp, director Gore Gorbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer - reunite here to produce a work of inconceivably-less effect. It’s not the critics who are to blame for its failure, it’s the sheer flat-footedness of the film.
Lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a deputised Texas Ranger who unwillingly teams up with Native American Tonto (Johnny Depp). They step outside the law to avenge his brother who died at the hands of stone killer Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner).
The Lone Ranger himself is a figure of fun – inept and silly – whereas the put upon Tonto is the brains of the duo. That’s a lovely dynamic, seen to exceedingly-greater effect with, for example, the far-smarter Gromit ever propping up the hapless Wallace. The Tonto part does work but the film tries to offer John Reid pathos and dignity when he’s nothing more than a clown. In this respect, it’s very uneven in tone. His story swings clumsily from a serious man out for revenge, winning back his true love to a fool, hopelessly out of his depth and incapable of change.
Armie Hammer is not bad in the role, it’s just badly written and due to the writing (not the actor) he’s an unlikeable hero. He does his best with the material and I hope this doesn’t put a kibosh on his career because the man has talent – he has comic chops and dramatic presence. Depp is really quite brilliant, though. The level of commitment in his performance makes me very sad because he simply deserved a better film. His Tonto offers some glittering nuggets of humour amidst this big pile of dirt. It doesn’t help that he’s the sidekick, playing second fiddle to someone we care two hoots about. But when he’s on screen he is rather wonderful, giving a consistently-comical performance as the put upon Comanche in a white man’s world. And, ingeniously, he pulls it off without being in the least bit patronising.
At two and a half hours I immediately assumed it to be overlong for a family film. However, Mary Poppins runs just ten minutes shorter and, like Mary herself, that film is “practically perfect in every way”. It’s the lack of fun in The Lone Ranger that makes it so bloated. For all its big action set-pieces there is much tiresome, humourless plodding. So its length will certainly exceed the attention span (and popcorn consumption) of younger viewers.