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Cinemania > The Lone Ranger rides again, with lots of outlandish action

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Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp star in ‘The Lone Ranger.’ Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp star in ‘The Lone Ranger.’

With two big-name stars, a director with experience in creating big summer films, and a wealth of source material to draw from, “The Lone Ranger” had the potential to be one of this season’s blockbusters. Sadly, the film is a bloated mess.

It all starts when district attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer) returns to his hometown to visit his brother Dan, a Texas Ranger. When an outlaw with a penchant for eating human flesh escapes from prison and kills Dan, Reid becomes a ranger himself, and is tasked with bringing the fugitive to justice. He teams up with an unlikely ally in Tonto (Johnny Depp), a Native American who has his own reasons for taking down the bad guy.

It sounds like an exciting story, but the plot gets lost amid unnecessary distractions, strange tonal shifts and outlandish action sequences. 

Director Gore Verbinski, most famous for directing the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, takes a similar route here, throwing as much as he can at the screen and hoping that something sticks. But in doing so, he sacrifices any hope of creating a compelling story. And while the “Pirates” films, which existed in a fantasy-driven universe, sometimes benefited from this tactic, “Ranger” fails for the exact same reason. And at two and a half hours long, much of this movie seems like pointless afterthought. Verbinski is great at choreographing action sequences and creating gags, but plot is not his strong suit.

Though it’s strange to cast a white man in an Indian role, Depp manages to excel and is the most interesting person onscreen at any given moment. Instead of the bizarre and eccentric pirate he played in the “Pirates” series, here he plays a bizarre and eccentric Comanche. If the movie worked, his character would be a fan favorite. Hammer, on the other hand, seems bland and uninteresting in his role, and never really makes the Lone Ranger his own.  

There's an uncertainty about this movie. Is it trying to reinvent the iconic characters with a more serious tone, or create a sense of self-parody? It accomplishes neither. It meanders along and at after a long buildup, eventually just ends. And the whole thing is wrapped around a strange framing device, with an elderly Tonto (Depp in horrible makeup) telling the story to a child. This is a perfect representation of the movie as a whole: What’s the point? Needless subplots include something about transcontinental railroads and Reid's relationship with his widowed sister-in-law. 

Finally, “The Lone Ranger” wears you down. In its effort to be huge in scale, the movie throws in tons of computer-generated imagery and elaborately staged hijinks. This should have been a simple story about a lawman standing up for innocent victims. Instead, it turns into an insane tale about a bumbling superhero who mixes elaborate stunts with slapstick. It's lazily entertaining and occasionally amusing, but for a blockbuster-style movie, it’s just not enough fun.

PG-13, 149 min. 

‘Despicable Me 2’ retains the quirky humor and emotional punch of the original. ‘Despicable Me 2’ retains the quirky humor and emotional punch of the original.  Despicable Me 2

The first “Despicable Me” was a charming, funny little movie that surprised audiences with its heart. The second in the franchise isn't as brilliant or fun as the first, but still manages to be just as quirky, eliciting big laughs and packing an emotional punch.

The evil Gru (Steve Carell) is no longer a bad guy, and is content with taking care of his three daughters. But the world isn't through with Gru, who is called forth by the Anti-Villain League to fight against nefarious forces out to rule the universe. Once again the movie is filled with minions, a team of subhuman sidekicks that speak in gibberish and are walking visual gags. The movie may rely on these little breakout characters a little too often, but the plot is still fun enough to enjoy without them.

Gru may have lost his edge – the thing that made him most appealing – but the franchise hasn't.

PG, 98 min. 

Buy tickets to Despicable Me 2 and receive a free iTunes download of the song Just a Cloud Away by Pharrell. Buy tickets now!

‘Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain’ is at its best when Hart is on stage, doing his thing. ‘Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain’ is at its best when Hart is on stage, doing his thing.

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain

This tour documentary-standup movie is certainly fun, cutting back and forth between clips of the comedian on the road and bits of him performing at Madison Square Garden.

The movie is at its best when Hart is on stage, doing his thing, but that turns out to be the movie’s problem, because too much time is spent on his offstage antics, which often seem fake and staged. Even so, when he really hits, it works. Hart isn't the typical setup-punchline comic; he moves around a lot onstage and has intensely funny stories to back up his energy. There hasn't been a feature standup film in a while and Kevin Hart may not bring that trend back, but he definitely packs a solid punch in the meantime. 

R, 75 min.


The Heat

“The Heat” is your typical buddy-cop comedy but with a twist – both its stars are women. Unfortunately, other than its novel casting, the film is unoriginal, recalling similar comedies from “Beverly Hills Cop” on. 

Sandra Bullock is an uptight FBI agent from New York. Melissa McCarthy is a raunchy beat cop from Boston with a flagrant disregard for due process. She does anything she can, legal and otherwise, to bust criminals. The two reluctantly team up to take down a drug lord, and form an unlikely bond while cracking the case. It's familiar territory, and the movie suffers for it. A lot of the time, the movie is an excuse for McCarthy to riff with reckless abandonment. Her character is funny enough, and there are times where these improvised moments work. But a lot of the time it seems like you're watching a film built out of outtakes. It occasionally hits a groove, and then you are thrown back into a plot that is as tired as they come.

R, 117 min.


White House Down

Here’s another in a long line of insane action films that don't adhere to logic or reality. This one stars Channing Tatum as an ex-soldier working as protection for the speaker of the House while he waits for a Secret Service position. He is taking his daughter on a tour of the White House when a group of terrorists attack. Now it's up to his character to kick some bad-guy butt, save his daughter, and protect the president (Jamie Foxx).

What plays out is a “Die Hard”-like plot without the charm. Tatum and Foxx have some decent comedic chemistry, and there are genuine thrills. But director Roland Emmerich bogs it all down with choppy action sequences and convoluted plot devices. If Emmerich had cut out some of the fat, it could have been a decent thriller. But with too many hokey clichés and one too many twists, the movie falls short.

PG-13, 131 min.


Monsters University

Pixar returns to the well with “Monsters University.” The prequel to “Monster Inc.” tells how Mike and Sulley (voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman) met as young monsters and then learned their scarecraft. It all takes place at Monsters U, a college that teaches young students how to become competent fiends. The two start out as rivals, but eventually bond.

This is a classic college tale of plucky underdogs becoming friends and learning about life while attempting to challenge the system. The movie is well-made and funny, and though it lacks the emotional resonance of Pixar's best, it’s fun, with humor that is aimed at children but does not talk down to them.

G, 104 min.

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