Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies playing in area theaters:
"THE LONE RANGER"
It's "Pirates of the Caribbean" in the Old West. And any resemblance between the old-time radio/TV Western and this theme-park-ready-to-happen is exactly what Disney had in mind.
While the titular hero is the legendary masked man wearing a big, white Stetson and riding a scene-stealing steed named Silver, the plot pivots on his quirky Native American companion, Tonto (Johnny Depp), because the origin story is told as he recalls it.
Initially, there's no mystery about the lawman's identity. He's John Reid (Armie Hammer), an earnest, uptight lawyer who has come to Texas to be district attorney. John joins his older ranger brother Dan (James Badge Tate) in pursuit of Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a fiendish outlaw whose sadistic sneer terrifies Dan's wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), who married Dan when John left for Harvard Law School.
But they're bushwacked. All the rangers are killed except John, who's determined to avenge his brother's death and rescue kidnapped Rebecca and his nephew. But Tonto, a bizarre spirit warrior, is the brains behind the operation -- with his chalky white-streaked face, fake nose and a dead crow perched atop his head. He's come to recruit Reid to bring to justice those responsible for destroying Comanche villages. He convinces Reid to wear a mask made from his late brother's vest, calling him "kemosabe." Then there's the conniving railway baron (Tom Wilkinson) and a saloon madam (Helena Bonham Carter) with an ivory leg that shoots bullets.
Screenwriters Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and director Gore Verbinski take an exhausting 2.5 hours to tell this vigilante tale, chock full of explosions, crashes and chases -- with a climactic shootout on dueling steam trains, accompanied by Rossini's rousing "William Tell Overture." FYI: It's PG-13 but wary families should know there's a great deal of bloodshed ... and if Hammer looks familiar, he played both Winklevoss twins in "The Social Network."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Lone Ranger" gallops in with a slapstick, slyly silly, high-spirited 6, evoking days of yesteryear with, "Hi-ho, Silver! Away!"
From the creator of "Bridesmaids," this new R-rated cop comedy tackles the macho buddy-action genre that goes back to "Lethal Weapon," "48 Hours" and "Bad Boys."
Arrogant, ambitious Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is a hard-driving, by-the-books New York City-based FBI agent whose investigation of a murder takes her to Boston, where she butts heads with boisterous, brusque, Beantown detective Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), who's also working the case.
Neither has ever had a partner before and they repeatedly misunderstand one another. Yet they bond as they relentlessly pursue a dastardly drug kingpin. Despite their abrasively combative personalities, they complement each other and -- what's more important -- as they kick ass, they become friends.
Screenwriter Katie Dippold (NBC's "Parks and Recreation") supplies plenty of sneering, cringe-worthy sexist comments and raunchy, profane dialogue, destined to provoke raucous laughter within this definitively female-centric environment. Crowd-pleasing director Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids") plays with the simplistic, stereotypical, supportive camaraderie, buoyed by the obvious chemistry between these two gutsy professionals who have chosen career over family and kids.
While the cliched, odd-couple bantering is good, the pacing at times is way off, particularly during the drunken bar scene and the graphic emergency tracheotomy. And there are far too many Albino gags. Marlon Wayans adds surprising depth in a non-comedic role; Tom Wilson, Demian Bichir, Jane Curtin, Michael Rapaport and Tony Hale lend support; while Jamie Denbo and Jessica Chaffin (members of the L.A.-based troupe Uptight Citizens Brigade) drive home some of the sight gags.
It's significant that both Bullock ("Miss Congeniality") and McCarthy ("The Identity Thief") are over 40 -- a demographic often ignored by filmmakers. Riffing off the Spanx scene, they openly rebel against Hollywood's poised perfection standard. And both are obviously talented comediennes, balancing outrageous improv with tender, serious moments.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Heat" generates a scruffy, snarky, slapstick 6. A sequel is already in the works and, hopefully, it won't be so formulaic.
"MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING"
When Joss Whedon, the prolific writer/director/producer of "Marvel's The Avengers," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Firefly," "Dollhouse" and "Angel," makes a home movie, you can bet it's much ado about something.
Filmed in black and white in 12 days at his sprawling Spanish-style home in Santa Monica, Calif., it's a frothy, low-budget adaptation of William Shakespeare's ribald, robust comedy "Much Ado About Nothing" about falling in love and arranged marriages.
According to Whedon, the idea has been germinating for many years -- ever since he started inviting actors to his home for impromptu readings of "Hamlet," "Macbeth" and "Othello." A communal camaraderie was established as Whedon's stock company was gradually formed.
While the setting has been moved from 16th-century Sicily to 21st-century southern California, Whedon uses the original -- if trimmed and tailored -- Elizabethan text, albeit in modern dress and eschewing the iambic pentameter. Filled with lies, deception and betrayal, the cheeky, playful plot revolves around the celebratory visit of suave Prince Don Pedro (Reed Diamon on "Dollhouse") and his villainous brother, Don John (Sean Maher), along with their retinue, to the home of Messina's Governor Leonato (Clark Gregg in "The Avengers") for a garden party weekend that's filled with charming romantic intrigue.
Alexis Denisof ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and Amy Acker ("Angel") play ex-lovers, marriage-averse Benedick and tart-tongued Beatrice, while Fran Kranz ("Dollhouse") and Jillian Morgese (who was an "extra" on "The Avengers") are the troubled younger lovers Count Claudio and virtuous Hero. Nathan Fillon ("Firefly") and Tom Lenk ("Buffy") bring comic relief as the dimwit neighborhood constable Dogberry and his slapstick sidekick Verges.
Apparently, Whedon did the filming -- with cinematographer Jay Hunter using multiple cameras -- in the contractually required two-week break between principal photography and post-production on "The Avengers." It's how he spent his enforced vacation, working with his architect wife Kai Cole, who co-produced the ensemble effort.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Much Ado About Nothing" is an enjoyably amusing, screwball 7, but Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company doesn't have to worry.