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'The Lone Ranger' Rides Again

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The cinema snobs scoffed, the industry folks couldn’t raise their eyebrows any higher, and the politically correct sharpened their spears. As for me, I couldn’t be more excited about The Lone Ranger, out this Wednesday. What can I say, I love a good, old-fashioned Western, and this one delivers.

Some may view the semi-reunion of the Pirates of the Caribbean crew as tiresome — the movie reconnected director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and co-star Johnny Depp — but the powerhouse brings the same madcap elation to a once-spent genre that made the original Pirates such an unexpected, entertaining blockbuster. In some ways, The Lone Ranger benefited from its infamous near-shutdown over budget concerns. A scaled-back production meant losing bizarro special effects like supernatural coyotes, and the installation of Revolutionary Road screenwriter Justin Haythe helped to further ground the script. I could never truly take seriously concerns that this film would continue to toe the television show’s assumed racist line (see “In Defense of The Lone Ranger”), because thankfully, these days even a whiff of racism is not only bad for reviews, it’s bad for business, too (not to mention society). Just ask Paula Deen.

Right off the bat The Lone Ranger addresses the complex issues surrounding the historical treatment of Native Americans in pop culture, by playfully having Depp’s Tonto pose in the “Noble Savage” area of a Wild West sideshow, years past his crime-fighting prime. Tonto narrates the film, albeit from an increasingly unreliable perspective. As expected, Depp provides most of the film’s belly laughs as an unflappable, deeply weird Comanche with an equally immutable (because it’s dead) crow on his head.

Another blessing in disguise for the film is that in its long march from conception (2007) to release, it missed the sweeping trend of portraying action heroes as navel-gazing sadfaces. This Lone Ranger (played by Armie Hammer, read our interview with him here) has a reason to despise the cannibalistic and greedy villains, sure, but he’s free of boiling rage, existential terror, and the like, replacing it with an easy-going charm. Many of the film’s best jokes come at the Lone Ranger’s expense. That doesn’t mean he’s a total idiot, however.

As John Reid, Hammer is at first a stuffed shirt, waving around John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (which, maybe I’m reading too much into it, set forth arguments against slavery and most “rights of conquerors”) as he heads back to his hometown to serve as district attorney on some sandy Texas plain. He loves the law, maybe a little too much, and refuses to use a gun for most of the film.

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