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Johnny Depp and his "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski have already made one Western, the animated film "Rango." So with their latest collaboration, "Lone Ranger," they were looking to do something a little different. Critic Bob Mondello says little is not a word he'd use to describe anything about the film. But it's definitely different.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE")

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: There's never been anything very lone about the Lone Ranger. He's always been accompanied by Tonto, his Native American sidekick, Silver, his snow-white steed and the "William Tell Overture." And in this version, he's also trailed by movie references: Monument Valley settings straight out of John Ford Westerns, stunts with locomotives cribbed from Buster Keaton's "The General," a one-legged madam who would seem "Alice in Wonderland"-esque even if she weren't being played by Helena Bonham Carter and antagonist-buddy routines for the lawman ranger and the outlaw Indian straight out of Laurel and Hardy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE LONE RANGER")

ARMIE HAMMER: (as The Lone Ranger) I'm afraid I have to take you in. You speak English, don't you?

MONDELLO: Armie Hammer plays this Ranger-to-be as a fresh out of law school noble do-gooder while Johnny Depp's Tonto is a face-painting noble savage - that's the movie's phrase - who's forever feeding the dead crow he wears on his head. They will bond, but not until Silver comes along, a spirit horse to lift the ranger's soul literally from the grave. Think of it as the origin-story version of Lone Ranger, where we even get a back story for the mask and some major shifts in tone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE LONE RANGER")

HAMMER: (as The Lone Ranger) (Unintelligible)

JOHNNY DEPP: (as Tonto) Eyes cut where the bullets that killed him. From the great beyond, he will protect you and the ones you love.

HAMMER: (as The Lone Ranger) You want me to wear a mask.

DEPP: (as Tonto) The men you seek think you are dead, Kemosabe.

HAMMER: (as The Lone Ranger) All right. But if we ride together, it's to bring these men to justice in a court of law. Is that understood?

MONDELLO: Audiences expecting Pirates of the Panhandle from Verbinski are in from serious dry stretches. The director's been saying his "Lone Ranger" is sort of "Don Quixote" seen through the eyes of a demented Sancho Panza. And as with that tale of a knight tilting at windmills, there's social commentary everywhere you look.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE LONE RANGER")

DEPP: (as Tonto) Justice is what I seek, Kemosabe.

MONDELLO: The script fancies itself a critique of capitalism...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE LONE RANGER")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: What could you buy with all that?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: A country, captain.

MONDELLO: ...a manifesto on manifest destiny...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE LONE RANGER")

HAMMER: (as The Lone Ranger) Who controls the railroad (unintelligible)?

MONDELLO: ...and a saga about silver mines and the slaughter of Native Americans.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE LONE RANGER")

HAMMER: (as The Lone Ranger) If these men represent the law, I'd rather be an outlaw.

DEPP: (as Tonto) That is why you wear the mask.

MONDELLO: All very admirable though not a great fit for scenes of Depp communing with snaggle-toothed cannibal bunny rabbits and taking a runaway train ride or six. I mentioned Buster Keaton's train movie "The General" earlier. When Keaton did stunts playing pickup sticks with railway ties to clear the track in front of a moving locomotive, say, he actually did the stunts. The ties had weight.

Here, the director laid six miles of track in New Mexico and built two locomotives so he could do things with real trains that he has so digitally enhanced and implausibly staged that he might as well have done the whole thing as a cartoon. There's a couple of $100 million worth of technical wizardry up there on screen, and nothing is at stake, except maybe some future amusement park ride and the sequels and toys and hats and masks and piles and piles of silver, if enough people lay down their hard-earned silver to hear hi-ho, Silver, away. I'm Bob Mondello.

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