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Review by Chris Mason

"Am I the masked man?"The WB has now aired their attempt to recapture those thrilling days of yesteryear in THE LONE RANGER. The movie was directed by Jack Bender and written by Stacy Title & Jonathan Penner.

Lets just say I went into this “re-imagining” of the Lone Ranger with very low expectations.  The WB finally aired this long in coming Lone Ranger series pilot as a two hour “Movie Event”.  And frankly I think Clayton Moore & Jay Silverheels are spinning in their graves.  The production values seemed pretty cheap, a western town was constructed and the costumes were retro western, and everyone speaks in modern-day lingo. Something the producers would call ‘contemporizing’, I just call it lazy.  I’ll touch on the abomination of a costume (pictured above) this new Ranger wore in a bit.  The producers in a bid to make it more “contemporary” had originally explored having a young woman play Tonto.  And it seems some of that thinking made it into the final version. Our hero Luke Hartman (why not REID?) is immediately smitten with Tonto’s sister Alope, who is a hottie in every sense of the WB mold, and only serves to prove that the hero isn’t gay… my thinking is Alope is a hold over from the female Tonto days.  At any rate she’s the prettiest girl in the village, in fact I can’t recall seeing any other Indian maidens at all. In other attempts at being contemporary the film adds a young feminist minded newspaper publisher, and Luke's sister in-law runs the town general store, early in the film she says she going to change the name of the general store to "Department Store" because everything will have it's own department...  all this would lead to story lines if the film ever went to series.

The story follows Luke Hartman (Chad Michael Murray) a young would-be layer arriving in Dallas to meet up with his Texas Ranger brother, to figure out his life before heading to Harvard to become a lawyer.  Not five minuets in town Luke saves a young Indian Princess, Alope (newcomer Anita Brown) from would-be rapists, and then finds himself saved by the princess’ brother Tonto (Nathaniel Arcand).  Luke is soon joining his Texas Ranger brother on a hunt for Regulators who are driving innocent landowners off their land to make way for the coming railroad.  Luke even thou he’s never used a gun before, proves he’s a dead shot with a 45, shooting pinecones off a log with little effort.  Later, in a particularly brutal ambush, the Regulators gun down all the Texas Rangers in their sleep, betrayed by one of their own the show’s central villain played by Dylan Walsh.  Tonto arrives to save the wounded and left for dead Hartman, soon the two bond and begin a relationship frowned upon by the rest of Tonto’s tribal elders.  Once on his road to recovery Luke decides to seek revenge on the Regulators, but first he must “learn the ways of the Force”.  With the help of the tribal shaman (played by Wes Studi) and Tonto, the teach Luke in a couple of music-montages that are particularly irritating how to find his inner spirit and strength.  Along the way he finds his “spirit guide” a white horse he names Silver.  The music in this film is terrible and loaded with the prerequisite rock & roll music montages, and only once at the end do you hear the familiar theme music the William Tell Overture, but by this time the film just parodies itself, the theme is trashed with a modern update that is just plain sad.  By the end of the film the Lone Ranger has brought the bad guy to justice, and decides to stay in Dallas to protect his family.  As I remember my Ranger lore, the Lone Ranger roamed the Wild West helping everyone who needed him, leaving them to wonder “Who was that masked man?”  I'm assuming keeping the new Lone Ranger local to one town cuts production costs with not having the masked man in a new town each week.

This, and I’ll call it a “re-imagining”, as that is the current catch phrase these days… is a far cry from the days of Clayton Moore, I understand that things need to be updated and a new spun put on them, that goes without saying, no one really wants to see a retread of the classic ranger, you just wouldn’t be able to pull it off anyway. But this new Ranger just changes things for no apparent reason.  The main character is Luke Hartman as played by lanky WB “hunk” Chad Michael Murray, the name change from Reid to Hartman is never explained and doesn’t make sense – why change the name?  Another change is the hardware, now we all know that the Lone Ranger has always had two silver pearl-handled 45’s, in this new version the Ranger carries a single black 45. It’s like taking away Batman’s utility belt and giving him a tourist’s hip-pack, go figure. And never once does he use a silver bullet or is it ever touched upon.  And the most dramatic change is the outfit, gone is the white hat, gone is the nice tailored powder blue duds, (I always wondered who cleaned an pressed the Lone Ranger’s outfit back in the old west on the old show, guess that was one of Tonto’s many talents – but I digress) I had no problem with updating the costume, but the producers missed an opportunity to really define the character.  Here he wears an ill-fitting dark blue shirt and baggy leather pants with a dark brown stetson hat and brown leather mask.  I had hope that maybe come the end of the film there may be a new costume that could lead us to a possible ‘series’, which this film served as a pilot for.  But NO - we are left with a dine-store fake of a ranger. 

The only bright spot (and that ain’t saying much) here is Tonto; he’s been updated to reflect a more independent type of American Indian, that’s okay.  Tonto here is not the blindly trusting Indian that is sent into town to “see what you can find” week after week by the Lone Ranger only to get his ass kicked so the Ranger could save him.  Tonto here is the more interesting character in this film, we get to learn much more about what makes him tick than we ever learned about Tonto when Jay Silverheels was wearing the feathers. This is no slight to Silverheel’s portrayal - he’s still hands down the best TONTO!  There is however a couple of things about this Tonto that did bother me. One he can fight with ‘Matrix” like martial arts, doing spinning back kicks, and somersaults, and most disturbing is the fact that he can fly up to 25 feet… not fly like Superman but, like well, as if “summoning the inner spirit when it is needed” – HUH?  This is a trick that panders to the audience that expects the Jackie Chan like cartoon action, and is totally out of place in the wild-west setting. And a trick that is so laughingly predictable when the Lone Ranger uses it later to save Tonto.

The villains here are nothing new, and are stereotype baddies from the old west: less than intelligent, dirty, hairy and more that willing to find “love” by raping an Indian maiden.  And the town's Hotel owner was so obviously intended to be the on-going villain in the Lex Luthor tradition, that it's no surprise when it's revealed at the end that he's behind the evil shenanigans.  In the climax the Lone Ranger & Tonto single handedly take on the bad guys and then are joined at the last minuet by the rest of Tonto’s tribe, together they bring them to justice, not by killing them but by kicking the living snot out of them.  The Lone Ranger does however shoot the guns out of the hands of the bad guys on several occasions, a nice tribute to the old Ranger. When the Ranger is face to face with the man who killed his brother he's reminded by his horse Silver that, taking him in to face the law is the only way. So begins the turning point in the this new Lone Ranger's career... as short lived as it may be!

In the end this NEW Lone Ranger wasn’t terrible it just wasn’t good.  It’s sad that producers today seem to care so little about why they are bringing these “classics” to a new generation, they have apparently lost sight of what made then special in the first place, and chosen to ignore the history of these characters.  It’s doubtful we will see a series come from this re-imagining of the Lone Ranger, it was up against some pretty tough programming and had little or no publicity backing it. 

In the end it just proves that audiences today are missing out on one of the great Western characters, and also that producers in an attempt to put a new spin on and old legend just have no idea what they are doing.

Give me Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels the real LONE RANGER & TONTO any day!

Chris Mason
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