Dark HorizonsGarth Franklin is reporting that British director Mike Newell, 69 years old and looking to stay in the groove, has decided to hold his nose and take a paycheck for directing Jerry Bruckehimer‘s The Lone Ranger, which will star Johnny Depp as Tonto. No one’s signed for the title role, but this project has sounded like a feature-length SNL skit since it was first reported about by Collider‘s Steve Weintrab on 5.24.07. It certainly seems to represent a career low for Newell.

Newell has never been Neil Jordan or Mike Leigh, but in the ’80s and ’90s he showed an occasional facility for dramas and comedies with provocative social themes — Dance With a Stranger (’85), Pushing Tin (’99), Donnie Brasco (’97), An Awfully Big Adventure (’95), Four Weddings and a Funeral (’94), Into the West (’92). He seemed to drift into a glossier, helium-filled realm in the 21st Century with Mona Lisa Smile (’03) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (’05), and then came the disappointing Love in the Time of Cholera (’07).

The fact that the screenplay is by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot, a pair of opportunistic Bruckheimer-stable whores who’ve written the scripts for the Pirates of the Caribbean films, The Mask of Zorro and Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla tells you everything you need to know about where The Lone Ranger will be coming from.

Depp’s willingness to play Tonto has indicated from the start that the film is going to be a jape of some kind. How could his performance not be satiric-ironic-moronic?

I wrote a year or so ago that The Lone Ranger “is an obvious non-starter for the simple fact that westerns haven’t mattered for decades. Open Range showed that one could make a good solid western that stood on its own two feet, but the genre lost its cultural vitality back in the ’60s. Boomers have a sentimental thing for the classic TV series with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels (‘What you mean, we?’), but GenXers and GenYers, I would think, are completely uninvested. It just boils down to being a title that has a certain marketability because it sounds vaguely familiar in the dead-head sense of that term.

The other thing I wrote is that if Bruckheimer is really and truly married to the idea of reviving a 1950s-era western, he should remake Shane. Now that I’d pay to see in a New York minute.