Rango

Johnny Depp is! some kind of gecko-y lizard-y thing in the new hot mess from Gore Verbinski, the guy who brought us Mouse Hunt, The Ring, and a crapload of pirate movies.

Depp is a Hollywood-type (actually wears his shirt from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or maybe it’s Benicio Del Toro’s shirt) who takes the advice of an armadillo (Alfred Molina) to go wandering out in the desert, whereon he has a vision of Clint Eastwood (Timothy Olyphant) and runs into a female reptile, Beans (Isla Fisher) who takes him to her town, a place called Dirt.

Through a series of wacky mishaps, our hero becomes “Rango”, sheriff of Dirt, whereupon he immediately unwittingly facilitates the robbery of the last of the parched town’s water from the bank. (Well, almost the last: The town’s mayor (Ned Beatty) seems to be pretty flush.)

A posse is formed. Rango’s thespian skills come in handy. A chase ensues. Bats explode into flames. The plot twists. Truths are revealed. The hero faces his demons. Clint Eastwood appears in a golf cart. Englihtenment is achieved. A villain appears. Another villain is revealed. The Heimlich maneuver. A bullet. Hans Zimmer scores.

Mariachi owls narrate.

This is the Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest of animated films. It’s wild, hallucinogenic, dense, willing to sacrifice nearly anything for a gag or a cheap effect but, unlike Dead Man’s Chest, Verbinski’s frantic style actually harmonizes well with the animation. (The Pirates movies are cartoonish, but not actually cartoons.)

Besides The Flower and The Barb, I also had their friends with me, and a good time was had by all, though none of them came out saying this was the Best Movie Ever!

As I said, this movie is dense. It’s kind of fun, as a movie geek, to spot all the movie references. I would expect the younger kids to just sort of laugh at the sight gags and otherwise think “huh?” at a lot of it.

Primarily, it’s a spaghetti western, which at times reminded me of The Professionals, The Good The Bad and the Ugly—the title evokes Django, but I’ve never seen that. The plot is Chinatown. The chase scene is Road Warrior. I’ve mentioned the Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas connection. Bill Nighy appears as a ferocious rattlesnake at one point, evoking the pirate movies themselves in his confrontation with Depp.

It’s all amiable enough. At points it seems to lose touch with its already tenuous grip on sanity and reason. It sacrifices a lot of potential for heart in the service of heavy stream of gags—which is a perfectly acceptable approach to fun kids movie, but don’t expect a Toy Story or a Despicable Me.

All in all, I liked it, and I can’t give it a full critique as I was wrangling four kids with heavy popcorn (and some potty) demands, but I won’t mind seeing it again and trying to catch what I missed.

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