"The Lone Ranger" is rarely boring, but it isn't a whole lot of fun either.
The movie's strengths - rousing music, meticulous photography and dazzling locales - are badly outweighed by weak writing; and there's precious little of the rollicking "Pirates of the Caribbean" flavor that Disney clearly aimed at in this disappointing wannabe.
I initially worried about the running time; why does every action-movie have to push two-and-a-half hours nowadays?
From producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski comes Disney-Bruckheimer Films’ “The Lone Ranger.” Tonto (Johnny Depp), a spirit warrior on a personal quest, joins forces in a fight for justice with John Reid (Armie Hammer), a lawman who has become a masked avenger.
But length is not a problem here, partly due to Bojan Bazelli's gorgeous cinematography.
Shot after shot - even the briefest and busiest - is lovingly lit and carefully composed. And vast stretches were filmed on location - New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, California and Monument Valley. With the exception of "Skyfall," "Lone Ranger" may be the best-looking action movie ever made.
This bracing authenticity is greatly aided by real trains (as opposed to digital images) in many of the rail scenes.
(The realism stumbles, however, when an 1869 band plays "Stars and Stripes Forever" - nearly 30 years before it was written.)
Hans Zimmer's score is muscular, brassy and broad-ranging - from brooding undertones to Native American percussion to generous helpings of William Tell Overture.
So what's not to like?
Well, for one thing, the film simply tries too hard. Its plot meanders all over the place - at one point, it winds into three levels of flashbacks; and it wrestles with too many issues, including corporate greed, sibling rivalry, racism, revenge, romance and murky Native American mythology.
This material needed something leaner, linear, more elemental; white-hatted Westerns don't welcome the internecine complexity you might expect from piracy or sci-fi.
Along the same lines, "Ranger's" roller-coaster climax features so many different pieces of trains on different tracks that I finally gave up sorting them out; the whole thing is laughably overblown, and doesn't quite manage to play it tongue in cheek.
Armie Hammer lacks the charisma, the magnetism, the larger-than-life star power, to play this time-tested American icon.
And Johnny Depp is wasted as Tonto, reduced to dead-panning nearly everything - and getting maybe two laughs in the entire 149 minutes.
Likewise, Ruth Wilson, as the love interest, is flat and bland as 40-year-old gum; even her accent has no flavor.
Development of the Ranger's persona - his moral code, his mask, his apparent invincibility - never gets out of the starting gate. There's no one here to care about - no one you can even respectably hate, despite veteran character actors Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper, William Fichtner and Helena Bonham Carter; only the Ranger's brother comes to life, thanks largely to heroic work by James Badge Dale.
I did enjoy the Ranger's horse, who has a lot more personality than most of the characters.
But listen, kemo sabe: You know a film's in trouble when its best performance comes from a horse.
**1/2 (out of four)
The film is rated PG-13 for sexuality and fairly strong violence.