THE LONE RANGER: 3.5 STARS

“The Lone Ranger,” starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp as the title character and Tonto, contains a couple of firsts. It’s the first ever Lone Ranger screen story to be told from the perspective of sidekick Tonto and may well be the first Disney movie ever to feature cannibalism.

Set against a backdrop of corruption during the building of the railway’s westward expansion through Native American territory, this is the origin story of how attorney John Reid (Hammer), a law and order man who doesn’t believe in vengeance, met Tonto (Depp) and became the Wild West’s masked crusader.

The unlikely pair is brought together by their mutual enmity toward Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a cannibalistic outlaw who Reid wants to bring to justice and Tonto wants dead. That pursuit uncovers massive corruption during the building of the railway’s westward expansion through Native American territory beginning with a conspiracy to start a war between the US Calvary and the Comanche Nation.

“The Lone Ranger” is state of the art nouveau Western, complete with circling vultures, unspoiled landscapes, gruff, unshaven men and even a beer drinking horse. Surprisingly nimble footed for a two-and-a-half hour epic, it is unexpectedly funny, but more violent than your typical summer tent pole flick.

It’s hard to know exactly who “The Lone Ranger” is for. The Buster Keaton style slapstick humor seems aimed at kids but the multiple massacres, cannibalism and genocide are anything but kid-friendly. It’s an enjoyable romp but there is definitely a darker edge than you might expect.

There is also more story than you might expect. As a team Verbinski, Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s track record at handling a narrative doesn’t inspire confidence particularly if you surrendered hours of your life to watching the bloated “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels. Those movies were more rotten than the teeth in Captain Jack’s crooked smile, but reined in they deliver a mostly linear story that is inventive but most of all entertaining.

At the helm of it all are Hammer and Depp. The handsome Hammer has some fun with the stoic character and Depp, who says he is “one sixteenth Native American,” and speaks with the old school Jay Silverheels halting speech pattern, hands in a suitably wild performance as the spiritual but unpredictable character.

In their capable hands “The Lone Ranger” rides again.

 

DESPICABLE ME II: 4 STARS

“Despicable Me 2” features some big names. Steve Carrel, Kristen Wiig and Russell Brand headline the cast but the real stars are the nameless Minions who do most of the heavy lifting in this funny children’s flick.

The follow up to the 2010 hit, “Despicable Me 2” sees chrome-domed former villain Gru (Steve Carell) -- his days of trying to vaporize Mt. Fuji are behind him now -- as a doting single father lured back into the life, but this time working for the Anti-Villain League with partner and love interest Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig). The pair is sent undercover to a mall where one of the merchants is storing a chemical that will turn your average everyday Minion into an unbeatable fighting machine.

The trick is to figure out who is the bad guy.

Could it be the mustachioed hairstylist at the Eagle Hair Club or the salsa-dancing owner of the Mexican Restaurant who bears an uncanny resemblance to El Macho, a super villain thought to have perished riding a shark strapped with dynamite into a volcano?

Despite the humdrum story, “Despicable Me 2” is great fun. The predictable plot could have written itself, but the inventive gags contained within are the reason to take the whole family. The animation is excellent and returning directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud take pains to make the most of the visual gags.

A bug-eyed guard chicken, a Lipstick Taser toting agent and Gru’s vaguely menacing accent are worth a look and listen, but the movie belongs to the Minions.

The memorable Minions -- Gru’s yellow, jellybean shaped helpers -- are back, spicing up the movie with their own special kind of anarchy. Speaking in gibbertish, they’re fun, frivolous and worth the extra few bucks to enjoy in 3D (stay for some more fun during the final credits).

“Despicable Me 2” is silly good fun, the rare sequel that is zanier and more enjoyable than the original.

 

THE WAY, WAY BACK: 4 STARS

In the movies there are as many was to come of age as there are kids to mature into adulthood. Teen wizards fight dark lords, young rock writers have their heart broken by sad groupies, Parisian boys turn to crime and a girl named Baby does “The Lift” with a dance teacher.

“The Way, Way Back,” a new comedy starring Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell and Canadian actor Liam James, sets the story in a beach resort where a kid is trapped in a world of adults. It doesn’t add anything new to the coming-of-age genre, but what it does, it does really well.

Duncan (James) would rather spend the summer break with his father in California, but instead is headed to a New England beach town with his mom Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Carell) and his daughter (Zoe Levin). The place is “like Spring Break for adults,” which doesn’t leave much room for Duncan to enjoy himself.

He’s an introverted 14-year-old who can’t stand Trent’s condescending attitude or the change in his mother when she is around him. The summer becomes bearable, however, when he meets Owen (Rockwell), the free-spirited owner of Water Wizz, a local water park.

“The Way, Way Back” has a number of characters best described as “quirky.” Movies like this frequently rely on an artificially created sense of eccentricity to mask weaknesses in the storytelling, but when the actors involved are as good as the cast here, a few kooky characters are welcome.

Surprisingly Carell gives one of the least quirky performances of his career. As Trent he is cold and controlling, the kind of guy who treats Duncan like an add-on to his relationship. He calls the boy “Buddy.” as if he can’t remember his name, and after every pronouncement says, “Am I right?” It’s a quiet, nicely realized villainous performance that will help erase the image of nice-guy Michael Scott from viewer’s minds.

Collette also does solid, down-to-earth work alongside Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry as he loud, goodtime neighbors, and AnnaSophia Robb as the cute, sensitive girl next door.

Liam James also does a nice job as a teen who admits, “There’s not much for me at home,” and takes the initiative to make his life better.

The performances you will remember when you leave the theatre, however, belong to Allison Janney and Rockwell.

Janney, as the drunk, tag-along neighbor storms into the movie like a wild sea squall.

“I’m drinking again,” she announces. “Accept it and move on.”

It’s a big performance that requires her to deliver lines like, “That’s exactly the kind of bathing suit that got me pregnant the first time,” and while she is a caricature of the loud mouthed person you never want to sit next to at the regatta, she is expert in her delivery.

As man-child Owen, Rockwell is a fast-talking loser who has probably watched “Animal House” one too many times. Prone to doling out Bueller-esque life lessons like “Go your own way” and “Don’t die wondering,” he provides some real heart and becomes a satisfying component of the movie’s would-be father and son story.

Less nuanced is Louis (Jim Rash) who mans the bathing suit rental booth at the park. He’s quirky for quirk’s sake, but Rash is a master of the deadpan, and it works.

“The Way, Way Back” is more than just another study of awkward teen behavior. It’s a sweet movie with genuine laughs and despite the occasional bigger than life performances, is remarkably down to earth.