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óè The Lone Ranger

When it came to making a lasting contribution to the western genre, Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski should have stayed satisfied with the surreal cartoon Rango.

The star and director of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies deliver The Lone Ranger as a sprawling, revisionist, 21/2-hour mess of (more or less) live action, with none of the elegance and subtlety of their one-off 2011 'toon.

It's a transparent attempt to do for the western genre what they previously did for the pirate movie, skewing to gross spectacle and elaborate action over the niceties of narrative coherence.

A framing device places the elderly Comanche warrior Tonto (Depp, in extraordinary old-age makeup) at a carnival, where he proceeds to tell his life story to a lad sporting cap pistols and a mask.

Cut to some decades earlier where Tonto is rudely interrupted in his mission of vengeance against demonic outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Cavendish's goodie-two-shoes saviour is newly minted lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer), an earnest dolt intent on imposing by-the-book righteousness on the Wild West. When Butch escapes, John joins his Texas Ranger brother Dan (James Badge Dale) in a pursuing posse. That doesn't go well. Suffering a betrayal, Dan is killed and John is left for dead, only to be discovered by Tonto, who essentially resurrects the fallen Reid in the guise of the Lone Ranger, a masked avenger.

The movie strives mightily to elevate the character of Tonto from the sidekick status of the original radio serial/TV show. The movie could rightly be titled Tonto and the Lone Ranger in Order of Importance.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Tonto, a solitary outcast from his Comanche tribe owing to a youthful mistake he made, is an inherently more interesting character than the fusty do-gooder Reid. Depp plays him with a uncharacteristically bizarre appearance, with black-and-white-striped face makeup and a dead crow perched precariously on his head. Message received: Tonto is to the traditional "Hollywood Indian" as Capt. Jack Sparrow was to the traditional movie pirate.

It's a transparent effort to add more depth to the implacable stoic companion portrayed by Jay Silverheels in the old TV series. But that doesn't offset the fact that a white guy is playing one of the most recognized First Nations characters in western culture. 'Ö1/2

óè Insidious Chapter 2

THE sequel to James Wan's low-budget 2010 hit sustains Wan's admirable lo-fi approach to the genre, with a minimum of digital trickery. When it does scare, it does so as a result of solid acting, directing, editing and writing.

Also to its credit, the "Chapter 2" designation is legit. At the end of the last movie (Warning: spoilers forthcoming!), haunted patriarch Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) apparently succeeded in retrieving his comatose son from a misty spirit realm. Alas, he himself was possessed by one of the malevolent spectres who haunted him, to the great misfortune of helpful psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye).

In Chapter 2, though Josh is under suspicion for murder, he is reunited with his family and they've all moved in with Josh's mom Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) to regroup.

But the paranormal boogens are not letting up. Josh's wife Renai (Rose Byrne) hears disturbing stuff over the baby monitor and hears a familiar tune being played by an invisible musician on the piano. Her two sons, experimenting with old-fashioned tin-can telephones, are also picking up unearthly callers on their primitive party line.

Meanwhile, in Elise's absence, the paranormal investigator's two surviving associates Specs (Wan's co-screenwriter Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) team up with Lorraine to investigate the Norman Bates-like instigator of all this supernatural mayhem.

As for Josh... well, he's just not the same.

The action does not only continue the plot of the first film, it playfully weaves in and out of it (curiously reminiscent of Back to the Future 2) as the trapped inhabitants of the spectral world launch their own parallel investigation into the malevolent wraiths tormenting the family Lambert.

It is all very clever and occasionally chilling. It is also familiar if you've seen Wan's similar there's-something-behind-you ghost story The Conjuring earlier this year.

Blu-ray extras include the doc Haunted Hospital: On Location, a look at shooting scenes in the former Linda Vista Community Hospital in Los Angeles, itself the subject of a few paranormal investigations. 'Ö'Ö1/2

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 26, 2013 D12

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