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updated: 7/2/2013 10:46 AM

Depp rides off with exhausting, overdone 'Ranger'

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  • In "The Lone Ranger," Tonto (Johnny Depp) takes the spotlight away from Texas Ranger-turned-vigilante John Reid (Armie Hammer).

      In "The Lone Ranger," Tonto (Johnny Depp) takes the spotlight away from Texas Ranger-turned-vigilante John Reid (Armie Hammer).

 
 

If truth-in-advertising laws could be applied to movie titles, Gore Verbinski's overblown, revisionist western comedy "The Lone Ranger" would be called "Tonto and the Lone Ranger."

Or, "Just Tonto!"

Johnny Depp's performance as Hollywood's most popular Native American western sidekick dominates every scene in this misguided attempt to breathe new cinematic life into the Lone Ranger myth.

Depp's reinvented Tonto summons forth silent comedy star Buster Keaton in scary spirit makeup and an even scarier blackbird headdress.

He leaps with comic abandon from one noisy, epic action set piece to another with a mirthlessly placid facial expression, save for an occasional smirk of disapproval.

Compared to co-star Armie Hammer and his tentative, nondescript portrait of the Lone Ranger, Depp commands the silver screen here just as his Captain Jack Sparrow does the popular "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise.

Ever since 1981's "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" killed audiences with the silver bullet of boredom (and relegated star Klinton Spilsbury to a Hollywood trivia question), filmmakers haven't dared to resurrect the popular masked radio hero famous for his silver bullets and his "Hi-ho, Silver, away!" accompanied by the breathless finale from "The William Tell Overture."

Until now.

With a nod to Dustin Hoffman's "Little Big Man," "The Lone Ranger" begins with a young Lone Ranger fan (Mason Cook) at a 1933 carnival where an aged figure in an exhibit titled "The Noble Savage" appears to come alive.

He identifies himself as Tonto and tells his eager listener the story of how six decades earlier he met John Reid (Hammer), the pacifist lawman who became a Texas Ranger with his brother Dan (James Badge Dale).

After the dastardly, no-good Butch Cavendish (a grizzled William Fichtner in top villainous form) massacres about a dozen Rangers and eats Dan's heart raw on the spot, survivor John vows to secure justice. He puts on a mask to preserve his identity and teams up with newfound sidekick and frequent narrator, Tonto.

Meanwhile, corrupt railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) sets a desirous eye upon Dan's comely widow (Ruth Wilson), who apparently retains feelings for John left from an earlier relationship.

"The Lone Ranger" is one piece of crazy, insane action filmmaking owing more to a Road Runner cartoon than a classic western. (Watch out for the carnivorous bunnies! I'm serious.)

Helena Bonham Carter's one-legged brothel madam could easily be an escapee from a Quentin Tarantino movie with her shotgun-concealing wooden prosthetic. What?

As inventive and appealing as Depp remakes his Tonto, he can't compete with producer Jerry Bruckheimer's exhaustive, spectacular action overkill with explosions, bullets, chases and silly stunts that go on until tomorrow.

Who was that masked man, you ask?

At the end of this "Lone Ranger," the answer is "Who cares?"

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