By Richard Schickel
“The Lone Ranger” is too long and more than a little bit incoherent. The main plot (there are several) has something to do with Tom Wilkinson building a railroad. As usual, the picture was unconscionably expensive ($250 million, not counting the promotion budget). Critically, we are almost honor-bound to dislike—or at least to dismiss—this film. It’s the kind of movie that in more moralistic days used to awaken thoughts of the hospitals that could have been constructed instead using its budget.
Let’s just concede all that, shall we? And mildly suggest that any movie that has its hero arrive in the Wild West carrying John Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government” cannot be all bad. It may not, in fact, be the movie the critics think they are reviewing. This fellow, before he dons his mask and gets his silver horse, is named John Reid. Played as a hopeless square by Armie Hammer, he is kind of a dummy, though he proves capable of smartening up once he hooks up with Johnny Depp’s Tonto, who contributes an almost Keatonesque masterpiece of underplaying.
But whoa! There we go, getting trapped in the ins and outs of conventional filmmaking, as if that were the point of director Gore Verbinski’s movie. It’s not really about the story or the acting or any of the other stuff by which we usually judge the cinema. The thing is really one long stuntfest, and on that level, in its herky-jerky way, it sort of succeeds. That is to say, you will see some things in “The Lone Ranger” that you will not have seen anywhere else. My personal favorite has Hammer and Silver at full gallop racing along a Western street. Been there, done that about a thousand times. Except that they’re not thundering along on the ground. They’re pelting along on the rooftops one merry story above terra firma. I forget just why they’re doing that. Because it’s there, I guess. And the notion appealed to Verbinski or the writers or somebody else who thought it would be a neat thing to do (doubtless with the aid of CGI).
That’s the thing about “The Lone Ranger.” It doesn’t give a durn about probability. It’s just out for a good time, and it delivers one on a pretty regular basis. Oh, and did I mention that it is shot with uncommon handsomeness by cinematographer Bojan Bazelli? Or that at the micro-level it offers some fairly vicious squirrels for no particular reason?
Look, I’m not saying “The Lone Ranger” is at heart anything but what it means to be: a big commercial machine (which, what with one thing and another, will probably not make back its costs). It is not as good as Verbinski’s earlier, animated Western, “Rango.” On the other hand, it is not nothing, either. It has—dare I say it?—ambition. It wants—sometimes—to be taken seriously, to be, among other things, at least a sort of satire on its genre. That sublimity eludes it, mainly because of its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink ways. But it rarely bores and, often enough, it delivers on spectacle. That is a feat more rare than it should be—especially in the summertime, when living at the movies (particularly the big-budget ones) is more of a chore than it has to be.