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MOVIE REVIEW: 'The Lone Ranger' just one big disappointment

The Lone Ranger

(PG-13)

1/2 out of 4 stars

It would be easy to dismiss "The Lone Ranger" out of hand because it in no way resembles the appropriately square-for-their-time TV and radio shows on which it is based. This is a 21st century movie trying to appeal to an entirely different audience. Or is it? If you're a child, teen, parent under the age of 30 (or a family), are two-and-a-half-hour-long, 19th century-based westerns anywhere near the top of your must-see lists? Didn't think so.

While impossible to figure out to whom it's trying to appeal to or what tone to strike, it's a safe bet that Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were counting on curious baby boomers who grew up on "The Lone Ranger" shows to see this flick. This movie is not only unfaithful to its origins, it will prove to be the most colossally stylistically bereft production released thus far in 2013.

But, wait -- doesn't it star Johnny Depp?! The same guy who makes (mostly over-40) women swoon and go weak in the knees? The man who drove "Pirates of the Caribbean" to become one of the most lucrative franchises of all time? Yes, that is true. It is also the same Depp who was buried beneath pounds of make-up in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Alice in Wonderland" -- both (relatively) kid-friendly. "The Lone Ranger" is not at all kid-friendly and Depp is closer here to his rendering of Hunter S. Thompson in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" -- the R-rated acid-trip box-office bomb -- than an innocuous Native-American sidekick.

The movie opens in 1933 at a sparsely attended San Francisco fair where Tonto (Depp) is part of a still-life circus attraction where he -- donned in wrinkly, unflattering old-man prosthetics -- is virtually unrecognizable. Tonto begins to recount the history of the crime-fighting duo and it is admittedly interesting. Tonto and the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer, "The Social Network") are shown robbing a bank. A freeze-frame of Tonto in this scene marks the movie's visual and narrative high-water mark.

This is the point where "Pirates" director Gore Verbinski and three screenwriters spend more than an hour over-explaining how and why the Ranger and Tonto got together. As this is an origin story, establishing the bullet points are crucial but not to this minutia-laden degree. This chunk of plot could have easily been whittled down to 15 minutes and achieved the same end result.

Once the duo is brought together in earnest, the movie goes from one sensory-overloading setpiece to the next and none does anything to expand or further the narrative. The underwritten, snaggletooth bad guy Butch (William Fitchner) and lurid puppet-master Cole (Tom Wilkinson) do a bunch of moustache-twirling and over-foreshadow their intent while the dull, tepid love interest Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) merely occupies space and occasionally strikes a winsome pose.

Semi-hamstrung by the special-effects restraints demanded by the time period, Verbinski still goes hog-wild with overly orchestrated train-based chase scenes that become the only concern. Tonto performs feats that would eclipse anything ever attempted by the Wallenda family and all of it plays as thoroughly improbable and impossible to swallow.

The action notwithstanding, the filmmakers display their greatest degree of disrespect and misinterpretation of the lead characters with the remainder. Tonto -- speaking for the duration in embarrassing, old-time, Hollywood broken English -- wears (and feeds) a dead bird sitting atop his head. When not doing that, he parades around with a birdcage on his noggin. His make-up -- crusty black and white -- is lifted straight from the Medicinal Mexican Mushroom Men characters from "Altered States" and it is beneath Depp in every conceivable artistic way.

The Lone Ranger is portrayed throughout as a well-intended but dim, dumb-luck dolt. As a lead playing the second banana, Hammer has the physique, height and desired square-jaw line but was likely way down on the filmmakers' desired list for the part. It's kind of hard to convince any A-list actor to be next to Depp and stay in the background while being the title character in a summer action flick. Hammer is here only for the cash and resume enhancement -- nothing more.

This is not the film expected from Depp at this point in his career. He's scaled cinematic heights and has proven himself to be the greatest living actor to never win an Oscar. Though he might claim otherwise, the Academy Award is something he -- and his many fans -- desperately expects him to eventually claim. He's made more than enough money with this type of mindless, throwaway action dreck. It's high time for Depp to get back in touch with that mindset he had when he bolted from "21 Jump Street" so many years ago and decided to become an actor for the ages. We're counting on you, Johnny. Resume focus. Don't disappoint us like this again. (Disney)