The 400-Word Review: The Lone Ranger
By Sean Collier
July 3, 2013

They'd both rather be watching Brisco County Jr.: The Movie

At an ill-advised pitch meeting, perhaps five years ago, a Disney executive pointed out that while they certainly knew how to make money off of Johnny Depp, they no longer knew how to do it with pirate movies. Perhaps they could transition the popular actor into another franchise. But which? And how?

Step one: Find a brand that no one cares has cared about for some time. There hasn't been a big screen adaptation of the Lone Ranger in over 30 years, so the antiquated cowboys and Indians property based on the radio serial served nicely.

Step two: Replace Orlando Bloom with Armie Hammer. Admittedly, this is always a fine idea.

Step three: Bring in Helena Bonham Carter for palatable laughs.

Step four: Maintain the vast majority of the Pirates of the Caribbean team and throw money at it until it’s a movie.

Marketing a populist specimen from a forgotten genre would've been a tall order no matter what the circumstances. (This is doubly so when trying to appeal to a generation with absolutely no tie to the source material.) But Disney gave themselves an insurmountable challenge when someone — perhaps Depp himself, who seems to view his role as Tonto as a grand apology for the white man's abuses against Native Americans — injected an overpowering self-seriousness into The Lone Ranger.

This produces a movie that neither entertains nor enlightens. It wants to split the difference between a dramatic, serious western and frivolous popcorn fare, but never truly finds a rhythm at either extreme.

Many of the performances are amusing or at least capable, and the production design and look of the film are dramatic and compelling. (This is the one area where Disney never falters.) But the course of the story — the Ranger’s struggle with the idea of justice outside the law, Tonto’s quest for revenge on the baddie that wronged him and destroyed his village — are such overplayed ideas that, for nearly two hours, The Lone Ranger is staggeringly dull.

A concluding chase scene — loudly announced by the late appearance of the “William Tell Overture,” just in case you had nodded off — is truly thrilling. It is not, however, worth the plodding effort required to get there. Disney would be wise to put The Lone Ranger back amongst the moth balls, and place Depp in a property built from the ground up.

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at