Critics are lighting a match to "The Lone Ranger," the mega-budget western that has built up a heap of savage early reviews criticizing everything from its violence to the nutso performance of Johnny Depp as Tonto.
Critics have branded the film a "must miss" with a doleful 25 percent "rotten" rating on critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Many top reviewers have yet to weigh in, so it's possible the film will pick up more favorable notices before it gallops into theaters on Wednesday, but as it currently stands the film ranks as a critical dud.
With a reported budget of more than $200 million, Disney will now have to rely on a marketing blitzkrieg rather than critical raves to herd audiences into theaters. The origin story follows lawyer John Reid's (Armie Hammer) ambush and transformation into the mask-wearing vigilante. It reunites Depp with "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
In TheWrap, Alonso Duralde bemoaned Depp's latest entry in his gallery of oddballs, writing that the A-list star's presence is a distraction.
"Depp lands the occasional one-liner, but his presence in the movie actively undercuts our investment in the Lone Ranger as a character, much less as a hero," Duralde wrote. "Imagine Christopher Nolan casting Joan Rivers as Alfred in the 'Dark Knight' movies so she could follow around Batman and make jokes about his ridiculous outfit."
Drew McWeeny was even less amused. The HitFix critic suggested euthanizing the bloated tentpole picture.
"Someone needs to drag this thing out behind the barn and put a silver bullet in its brain," McWeeny wrote. "It's the only kindness this movie deserves."
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He added a word of warning to parents who might be inclined to bring their tykes to the theater over the Fourth of July holiday.
"This is an R-rated movie that has somehow managed to squeak by with a PG-13.," he wrote. "It is startlingly violent, and it seems unaware of just how upsetting much of the imagery is."
Tim Grierson of Screen Daily placed the blame for the film at the feet of its director, writing that Verbinski stages action sequences that defy logic and drama.
"Repeating the mistake of his Pirates films, Verbinski also overdoes his set pieces, creating such elaborate, effects-heavy sequences that they cease being even remotely believable, substantially limiting audience investment in what’s happening," Grierson wrote. "If, on paper, a finale involving two runaway trains – including characters swinging from one to the other while a separate character rides a horse atop one of the trains – sounds dynamic, on screen it’s simply numbing because of the filmmakers’ unwise decision to keep increasing the stakes without much thought to the laws of gravity or the limits of the human body."
The production spared no expense and therein lies the problem, wrote Variety's Peter Debruge.
"This team builds things just to blow them up, and by the film’s climax – which juggles several high-peril situations aboard two criss-crossing locomotives, including the sight of Reid riding his 'spirit horse,' Silver, atop a train – what began as an elegantly epic, potentially realistic retelling of the Lone Ranger legend has devolved into Wile E. Coyote-style cartoon shenanigans," he wrote.
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy echoed Debruge's sentiments, complaining that the pictures suffers from bloat and delusions of franchise-dom.
"Floated conceptually and commercially by another eccentric comic characterization by Johnny Depp, this attempt by Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer to plant the flag for another Pirates of the Caribbean-scaled series tries to have it too many ways tonally, resulting in a work that wobbles and thrashes all over the place as it attempts to find the right groove," McCarthy wrote.
Finding a positive review may prove to be Tonto and the Lone Ranger's greatest challenge.