When the Spirit Horse relieves his bowels midway through The Lone Ranger, and the screen is filled with his ever-piling-up turds, it will take you a while to realize that this shit is different from the rest of the excrement that director Gore Verbinski has been showcasing the previous hour.
To be blunt, this Jerry Bruckheimer production is so bloated, so misconceived, so vile in its treatment of Indians, so idiotically scripted, so tone deaf, so seemingly edited with a Cusinart, that you'll feel you've been scalped more than once by the time you witness a wrinkled Tonto in semi-Comanche drag walking off into the horizon step by step by step by step by step as the unending credits steamroll over him.
The first major error of the enterprise is how the story is framed. The year is 1933, and a young boy attending a fair in Lone Ranger drag enters a sort of Wild West Museum in a tent. There, while standing in front of an exhibit labeled "The Noble Savage," the lad is suddenly confronted with a taxidermic Tonto (Johnny Depp) who suddenly comes alive and starts telling the tale of his adventures with John Reid (Armie Hammer) aka The Lone Ranger.
Jump to 1869: the building of the railroads in Colby, Texas. Somehow Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a sadistic villain who escapes a hanging, and Mr. Cole (Tom Wilkinson), a villainous sadist of a railroad tycoon, have joined forces to make it appear that Indian tribes are attacking settlers, thus upending the peace treaties that they had agreed to. Why? Let's just say it has to do with a whole lot of precious ore, and without Native Americans around, the ore will be that much easier to mine.
So let's get the Army to wipe out the red-skinned wrongdoers.
Uh, oh! The town's sheriff (James Badge Dale) has discovered the truth. Well, let's get rid of him, too, and cut out his heart. But he is Reid's older brother and the husband of the woman Reid loves, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), who gets kidnapped with her son.
Well, to remedy the situation, let's hook up Tonto with Reid/the Lone Ranger, who by the way seems to be modeled on Robert Hays's character in Airplane. Now have the duo become buffoonish buddies, add a mystic horse, a revengeful madame (Helena Bonham Carter) with a leg of ivory, carnivorous bunnies, a homophobic portrayal of a cross-dressing lawbreaker who wouldn't mind getting violated, ridiculously interminable train chases, and the William Tell Overture. If that weren't enough, the kid at the fair keeps interrupting the film with questions for Tonto because he doesn't exactly believe what he's being told, which is because Tonto keeps changing the tale as he pleases.
But idiocy can be palatable, which this screenplay by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio isn't. The bizarrely complicated action leaps from the ruthlessly violent to the vapidly jokey. For instance, a moving scene of Indian warriors being slaughtered is followed by an insulting, unfunny non sequitur. That the initial screenplay included supernatural coyotes is not hard to swallow.
In the end, this small-spirited, 149-minute trek into the lobotomized minds of Hollywood's most "creative" bigwigs is so far the worst offering of the summer season, and let's just say it's had some tough competition. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Theatre into Film" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.