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Long ‘Ranger’ Revises Legend; ‘Way Back’ Scores: Movies

Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer as Tonto and John Reid in
Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer as Tonto and John Reid in "The Lone Ranger." The film is playing across the U.S. Photographer: Peter Mountain/Disney Enterprises via Bloomberg

July 3 (Bloomberg) -- There’s no shame in getting upstaged by Johnny Depp. Coming up third behind a dead crow, however, signals trouble.

“The Lone Ranger,” Disney’s jumbled, overlong stampede through Wild West revisionism, features a title character bland enough to beg the question: Who was that masked man?

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Gore Verbinski in an obvious ploy to replace their worn-out “Pirates of the Caribbean” cash machine, “Ranger” resurrects the galloping do-gooders from radio and TV’s golden eras. As if anyone had asked.

Depp, with a headpiece inspired by Kirby Sattler’s painting “I Am Crow,” mugs beneath cracked-mud face paint, dispensing prairie wisdom with faux-spirit-guide solemnity.

Seeing the Ranger’s lousy gun skills, Depp’s Tonto mumbles, “Might want to keep that to yourself, Kemo Sabe.”

The story has Depp’s Tonto and Armie Hammer’s bookish John Reid meeting cute on a runaway train.

The murder of Reid’s older brother (James Badge Dale) -- an evisceration, actually, and just one of many mood-altering blasts of violence in this otherwise child-targeted product -- sets his crime-fighting life in motion.

The mask, the silver bullet and Silver the horse all get their explanations, though it’s hard to imagine anyone below parent (or even grandparent) age recognizing the signifiers.

Long ‘Ranger’

At two hours and 30 minutes, “Lone Ranger” runs out of steam long before its locomotives do. The shoot-’em-up action sequences, modestly thrilling early on, grow as wearisome as Depp’s endless double-takes and laconic one-liners.

With his teeth whiter than Silver’s and a demeanor closer to Dudley Do-Right than Clayton Moore, Hammer seems oddly out of place in his own movie. The jokey performance comes up particularly short in Hammer’s scenes with Badge Dale, whose grittier approach easily ranks him as the summer’s MVP (he steals scenes in “World War Z” and “Iron Man 3”).

“Lone Ranger” has three in-cahoots villains -- heart-eating scarface hit man Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a greedy railroad tycoon (Tom Wilkinson) and a Custer-like Army captain (Barry Pepper).

Battling America’s incipient, genocidal military-industrial complex certainly gives the heroes some righteous heft, as “Lone Ranger” tries hard to summon the sprawling spirit of Arthur Penn’s revisionist 1970 milestone, “Little Big Man.”

“It is a good day to die,” says Tonto, the line lifted from Penn’s classic anti-Western, as one movie pays respect to its far greater ancestor in the sky.

“The Lone Ranger,” from Walt Disney Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ** (Evans)

‘Way Back’

Looking at 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), hunched miserably in the way-back of a station wagon on his way to a beach vacation he dreads, you can remember the moment: hating yourself, thinking everybody hates you and loathing the losers around you who call themselves adults.

Duncan’s divorced mother (Toni Collette) has a new boyfriend (Steve Carell) with a creepy zeal for humiliating him: When they go out on a boat with friends, he makes Duncan wear a big, dorky life preserver and the girls stare at him with contempt. Their next-door neighbor at the beach, Betty (Allison Janney), is a wacky loudmouth with no boundaries.

Almost Mean

“The Way, Way Back” was written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who also wrote “The Descendants.” They know how to ramp up behavior just enough to make it simultaneously appalling and funny without crossing over into the truly mean.

Duncan’s summer brightens when he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), a talkaholic water-park owner who sees something in him and forces him, not so gently, out of his shell. (Faxon and Rash, along with Maya Rudolph, appear as employees.) Betty’s pretty, sullen daughter (AnnaSophia Robb) gets him, too.

It’s a sunstruck comedy with enough pain at the edges to keep you aware that something is at stake, and it ends with a piercing visual joke that adds a layer of meaning to the title.

“The Way, Way Back,” from Fox Searchlight Pictures, opens Friday across the U.S. Rating: **** (Seligman)


What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
****  Excellent
***   Good
**    So-So
*     Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include Upper West Side restaurants and Laurie Muchnick on books.

To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com. and Craig Seligman at cseligman@mindspring.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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