A many-feathered Johnny Depp appears as Tonto in the recently released Jerry Bruckheimer-produced, Gore Verbinski-directed reboot of The Lone Ranger. Screenwriters Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio hoped to reinvigorate the franchise by exposing the ugliness of the bad Old West, but no matter what or how they try, their story is a tired cliche.
We meet Tonto in 1933, where he’s on display with a traveling carnival as “The Noble Savage seen in his native habitat.” Since 1933 was the year The Lone Ranger first appeared as a radio show, a young masked patron is gazing at the elderly Indian when he comes to life and mistakes the lad for the Lone Ranger. A tale of wonder and idiocy ensues Kemo Sabe.
As you might expect, this adventure epic is centered around a notorious villain tearing down everyone and everything that is right and good. The villain is Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), the intended prisoner of lawman Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), who in turn is the elder brother of newly minted, morally upright prosecutor John Reid (Armie Hammer), who will become The Lone Ranger.
It’s 1869 and Reid is returning to his hometown of Colby, Texas, via the nearly complete Transcontinental Railroad. Following an entertaining interlude that involves the escape of Cavendish, along with an Indian known as Tonto (Johnny Depp), the film quickly loses its way and strays into Lifetime Movie territory, where prosecutor Reid makes goo-goo eyes at his brother’s wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). She returns his gaze, but the pair are far too decent to do anything about it.
Noting his wife’s expression of longing, lawman Dan quickly deputizes his brother and orders him to join the posse hunting escaped murderer Cavendish.
Depp is following the posse when the eight Texas Rangers are ambushed and only prosecutor John Reid survives. Surprisingly disturbing violence insinuates Cavendish cutting out a living man’s heart and eating it.
John is saved and adopted by a wild and beautiful white stallion that completes the trinity and thankfully is miles smarter than either The Lone Ranger or Tonto.
Trains figure prominently into the action and are the setting of much roof walking for Tonto, The Lone Ranger and his horse after these modern conveyances are overrun by baddies. At moments such as these, Tonto speaks to wandering spirits including the white stallion, which somehow manages to save Lone Ranger John Reid time and again.
Other characters include a vengeful Comanche chief (Saginaw Grant), an unscrupulous railroad tycoon (Tom Wilkinson) and a sharp-tongued madam (Helena Bonham Carter) whose prosthetic ivory leg can be converted into a gun with the touch of a button.
At 149 minutes, a $200 million dollar budget and no clear viewer demographic, Disney was hoping that Depp’s winning turns in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise would translate into big Lone Ranger bucks. Unlike the hugely successful “Pirate” movies, this one took in a paltry $30 million on its opening weekend, proving it isn’t always a good idea to plan a blockbuster around the latest costume Depp fancies.