"The Lone Ranger" is far from a perfect movie, but it has two things that most contemporary blockbusters lack: grandeur and craft. For both, you can credit director Gore Verbinski, the advertising wiz behind the Budweiser frogs, as well as the man behind the surprisingly successful big screen adaptation of "Pirates of the Caribbean."
You can see traces of Mr. Verbinski's commercial career in the movie's multitude of perfectly timed visual gags, its precise editing and its elegantly framed imagery. The movie's big action sequences are clearly constructed, with none of the unnecessarily spastic camera work or jittery editing that seems to infest the modern multiplex. But what really makes those big scenes work are the many expertly crafted smaller moments - the ad-worthy notes and jokes that keep the movie afloat.
But it's not all split-second gimmicks either. With its magnificent sun-starched desert backdrops, the movie is often nothing short of gorgeous; it has an effortless sweep and scope that films of its size don't often match.
You can also see hints of Mr. Verbinski's ad work in the movie's memorable and well-calibrated sense of weirdness. Even in a summer mega-movie, the director maintains a distinct, off-kilter sensibility - at times it plays like a Western by way of Monty Python.
Meanwhile, there's more than a trace of "Pirates of the Caribbean" in the film's DNA. In so many ways, "The Lone Ranger" works from the template Mr. Verbinski built with that film and its sequels. Like "Pirates," "The Lone Ranger" stars Johnny Depp in superoddball mode - this time playing Tonto, the title character's trusty American Indian sidekick. He plays the role as a sort of a Dadaist art project - the character is as much a cartoon as a person. At this point, Mr. Depp's over-the-top quirks have become something of a gimmick, but he's relatively restrained here, all things considered.
As in "Pirates," Mr. Depp is paired with a younger, more conventional hero. In this case, it's Armie Hammer as the titular Lone Ranger. Mr. Hammer already made an impression in what was essentially a dual supporting role in "The Social Network." Here he proves he can more than handle a lead. He's charming, funny and game for all the fun the movie has to offer.
There's plenty of that. Maybe too much. Like the two "Pirates" sequels that Mr. Verbinski helmed, "The Lone Ranger" is overly long and sprawling. At 149 minutes, "Ranger" doesn't quite hit the nearly three-hour running time of the third "Pirates" movie, but it's still at least 20 minutes too long. The slack is felt most in the sluggish third quarter, although it picks up at the end for a rousing third act.
Ultimately there's not much to an intended franchise-starter like "The Lone Ranger" except cinematic razzle-dazzle. But Mr. Verbinski has the honest-to-goodness chops and solid storytelling craftsmanship to make it work. Soulless but dazzling, it turns out, is far more enjoyable than the simply soulless alternative.
TITLE: "The Lone Ranger"
CREDITS: Directed by Gore Verbinksi; screenplay by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
RATING: PG-13 for Westernized action
RUNNING TIME: 149 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS
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