PG-13. 147 minutes. At area theaters.
You probably won't get saddle sores watching "The Lone Ranger," the extravagant reintrodution of the upstanding Western hero and his Comanche ally (don't call him sidekick!). But you may develop restless leg syndrome as the film — directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer — gallops past the 2 ½ hour mark.
The 80-year-plus saga of the the masked man has its roots not in the west but in the midwest in 1933, where the radio show was first produced in the land of a different kind of horsepower: Detroit.
At least one of the pop culture phenom's trademark words came from a Michigan camp the producer's father-in-law owned: Kamp Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee, which itself might have taken inspiration from an Ojibwe word.
This bit of pop culture rummaging would be a lot more compelling were the movie itself more thrilling. Instead, "The Lone Ranger" is too often as vast and empty as Utah's Monument Valley ( Colorado's own Creede gets a few brief cameos). Only the film's wide stretches aren't awe-inspiring so much as tiring.
The movie's framing device finds a boy in chaps, wearing a mask over his eyes, entering a tent at a Wild West exhibition in 1933. In one glass showcase, a skinny, ancient Indian stands in waxed figure stasis with a dead crow as headdress. The leathery soul turns to the boy and begins his tale of whoa, hi-ho, and of one ramrodstraight kemosabi. Consider Tonto a deadpan Boswell, recounting the transformation of John Reid (Hammer) into the Lone Ranger.
Tonto's makeup, created by Oscar winner Joel Harlow, is one of the most amazing effects in a movie rife with train crashes, explosions, shoot outs, and multi-trick ponies.
His story plunges us into Colby, Texas, in 1869 as railway magnate Latham Cole (a finely underhanded Tom Wilkinson) lays the rails that will connect the nation but also traverse Comanche territory.
It's a world of bold possibility and bolder betrayal. And writers Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio strive to offer a post-modern view of the more arrogant aspects of Manifest Destiny.
When Reid returns to his home state from back East, the idealistic lawyer carries a volume of John Locke, the philosopher of rationalism and tolerance, under his arm. Yet, Reid's not quite prepared for the west his older brother Dan (James Badge Dale) knows well. Dan is a Texas Ranger called away from wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) and his young son in the name of rough-and-ready justice.
Hammer ("The Social Network" and "J. Edgar") brings a kind of Gary Cooper handsomeness and self-consciousness to the role that should work but doesn't quite charm. Tonto consistently jokes about John Reid being the lesser brother. It's probably not good that even at the end of the movie, we tend to agree.
The filmmakers also work to make sure the Native American is the hero — or co-protagonist — and not just because the guy who portrays him remains one of the most beloved movie stars in the country.
The cast is muscular. In the dodgy but effective tradition of deformity signaling lawlessness, villain Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner ) wears a nasty scar on his mouth and is known for his bigotry toward Indians.
Holding her typically weirdly own as brothel owner Red Harrington, Helena Bonham Carter plays the smart whore to Wilson's thoughtful if underutilized Madonna. Red has an ivory prosthetic leg that mesmerizes and more.
"The Lone Ranger" is hardly a careless enterprise: The production design, costumes and makeup are expert. Clever touches abound. Yet the expensive adventure too often feels as hollow as — okay more hollow than — Red's beckoning appendage.
Lisa Kennedy: 303-954-1567, email@example.com or twitter.com/bylisakennedy