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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

The Lone Ranger

Or: Tonto, the Movie


Lord, Lord! As much as I hate to admit it, I find that on occasion a nice over the top shoot’em up can be just the thing to brighten my day. After the stinking salt flats of Blue Jasmine I happily rushed into the Lone Rangers wide open spaces, welcoming sense of peril, and wide veins of humor. It’s a good trade: a delicate, high-minded and bad film for a cheep, fast-paced and good one.

In Colby, Texas 1869 John Reid (Ari Hammer) a prim Harvard Lawyer back home for the first time in nine years, is deputized by his brother Dan, a texas Ranger, to help him hunt down the cannibalistic outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). After the hunt goes horribly wrong John is rescued from death, grudgingly, by a peculiar Comanche Indian named Tonto (Johnny Depp) eager to bring Cavendish, the “Wendigo”, to justice for reasons of his own.

Despite the extraneous framing story of the (very annoying) 1933 boy talking to an aged Tonto (if it worked for the Princess Bride it’ll work here, won’t it?) the story, in moral value, character development and fight choreography, is very well couched and teased along. Of course much of it relies on improbable situations (train-fu features heavily, as do trick shots) and it’s racial politics regarding the Comanche and the Chinese are sketchy in the extreme. But for a heavily CGI’d adventure flick, it’s beautifully shot, wittily written and when the Music Starts (no one does it like Zimmerman and Rossini) just wrap your hands around the imaginary reins and ride along.


Depp is once again in his element of the bizarre (Tonto is by far the best written and executed character) dropping punchline after punchline and deadpan response after deadpan response. Yes, it might be construed as offensive, but Tonto is so adaptive, so strange (even the Comanche thinks he’s missing half a deck) that any whisper of ill intent is blown away on gales of laughter. Hammer serves his part well, but does not excel in it, grimacing from one bad situation to another. Even the impending death of his girl/sister-in-law (long story) elicits no more that a factory grade cry of rage and terror. Oh well, the Ranger is all about the Mask anyway.

You may need a few minutes of contemplation on the drive home to puzzle out all the subtext and twist(!)’s of the film, an unusual requirement for a film of this class, but your puzzling will help highlight the lengths Haythe Elliot and Rossio have gone to give you a good story. And between Verbinski’s the sweeping vista’s of the west (which look nothing like Texas) and the antics of Silver the spirit horse (who favors such classics as Cat Ballou) you’ll find a film that’s a pleasant way to jump a heart back to merry pounding and put a swagger in your step.

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