Was anyone yearning for a mondo-budgeted film version of a mediocre TV show from the 1950s in which the central hero’s sidekick was portrayed in a shamefully condescending way? Probably not. Yet Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, the duo behind The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, team up for an entertaining, if often bloated, revamping of The Lone Ranger. Depp’s Tonto is obviously meant as a corrective of sorts to his character’s previous incarnation, an amusing but essential sidekick to a Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) who continually mistakes him for an eccentric “noble savage.” This Lone Ranger is naïve do-gooder, an educated man who is forced into ranger service when his rural hometown is threatened by a pack of money-grubbing outlaws.
The overstuffed narrative surrounds a plot in which greedy white men attempt to blame an Indian tribe for breaking a treaty so they can pilfer silver — yes, in a subversion of Hollywood tradition, the white man is the bad guy. There’s also an undernourished love story and a needless framing device that push the running time about 20 minutes too long, but Verbinski’s elaborate action sequences, which channel the loopy tone of Saturday morning serials, and Depp’s latest oddball Chaplin routine inject a healthy dose of lighthearted froth. Now let’s hope the inevitable doesn’t happen — a pair of crass, Pirates-like sequels. Now in theaters. (PG-13) Grade: B-