What were they thinking? I kept asking myself that question as I plodded through the boring first hour of this elaborate but elephantine Western. Why bother making a film called The Lone Ranger if your intention is to turn the famous hero into a doofus and his noble Indian friend into a wisecracking Greek chorus?

Johnny Depp-Armie Hammer-680
Photo by Peter Mountain - Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski simply wanted to transplant the crowd-pleasing ingredients of Pirates of the Caribbean into a Western setting. Fair enough, as a commercial proposition…but you still ought to provide the audience with someone to root for, and this lumbering screenplay (by the Pirates guys, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and Justin Haythe) offers nothing but lamebrains (like Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger, who’s clueless) and a variety of villains, from scummy Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and his gang to a ruthless railroad baron to the U.S. Cavalry itself.

Even Tonto (Johnny Depp), who is half-crazed, for reasons explained well into the storyline, isn’t what you’d call heroic. He saves the Ranger’s life, but he’s played mostly for laughs, like Jack Sparrow. Except he’s not all that funny.

Helena Bonham Carter turns up, briefly and inexplicably, as a dance-hall madam with a high-tech shooting device for a leg. It’s that kind of film, where nothing much makes sense—like Tonto dragging an unconscious Ranger through a fresh pile of horse dung. Everything is impressively staged on an enormous scale, from the railroad scenes to Bonham Carter’s emporium, full of painted ladies who don’t reveal too much, lest they despoil the Disney movie’s PG-13 rating. (Never mind the scene when Cavendish uses his knife to cut out a good guy’s heart; that occurs just off-camera.)

I have taken great pains not to compare this film to earlier incarnations of The Lone Ranger because I think the movie fails on its own terms. The long, climactic chase scene is jammed with the kind of overblown CGI stunts that render everything unreal and, therefore, unexciting. If I’m going to make comparisons, Hans Zimmer’s use of Rossini’s “Overture to William Tell” is the most lackluster rendition of that familiar theme I’ve ever heard. A tinny recording of the old radio or TV show will reveal a much more thrilling presentation of this mighty piece of music.

But then, there’s nothing remotely genuine or sincere about The Lone Ranger. The vintage half-hour radio and TV episodes were formulaic in the extreme but they were done with conviction, and aimed squarely at kids (and the young-at-heart). That is why they endure and continue to entertain people, including baby boomers like me, after so many years. I’m already doing my best to forget this misbegotten movie.