‘Lone Ranger’ decision looming

Disney execs to mull reduced-budget pic plan over holiday weekend

After taking the long weekend to gut-check “The Lone Ranger,” Disney was expected to decide this week whether the tentpole Western — and its $200 million-plus budget — will ride.

Mouse House execs met with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski late Thursday to discuss the production budget, which started at around $250 million before Disney balked and asked for something in the $200 million-$215 million range. The meeting yielded no final decision; instead, studio brass wanted to review the revised plan and mull their options over the Labor Day weekend.

Verbinski’s presence at that meeting was significant: Johnny Depp, long set to play the Lone Ranger’s sidekick Tonto, let on last week that he won’t do the film without the helmer, and the studio is counting on Depp’s star power to sell the movie to a broader audience.

Pic, which will star Armie Hammer as the title character, was expected to go into production in November for a Dec. 21, 2012, release. Insiders say that even if Disney greenlights the movie now, it’s going to be cutting it close — many believe the production may have to be pushed to an early 2012 start date, which could jeopardize its targeted premiere date.

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