- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
here is a reason why “Rango” is peppered with allusions to, and even a cameo by, Hunter S. Thompson. The movie is positively gonzo, a world where moles with jug band instruments ride bats while performing “Ride of the Valkyries,” and mariachi owls serve as both the soundtrack and the narrators. Unfortunately, its reach far exceeds its grasp, and in its quest to give the public something they’ve never seen before, they end up not offering nearly enough of it, filling the gaps with chaos. It’s a film that’s easy to like in spirit, if not in execution.
Johnny Depp provides the voice of a lonely lizard who play-acts with the few props in his tank, until a near-accident on the highway sends him hurtling from his owners’ car. Abandoned in the stifling heat, the lizard runs across a soothsayer armadillo (Alfred Molina) who gives the lizard clues on how to find his destiny. He stumbles upon a dying town that is running out of water, and using his skills as a thespian (and you better believe there’s joke about that word), he convinces the townsfolk that he’s a hotshot outlaw named Rango. The locals like him right away, including stubborn farm girl Beans (Isla Fisher), and the mayor is so impressed that he makes him the new sheriff, His first assignment: figure out what happened to the water supply, and it doesn’t take him long to smell a rat.
First, a word of warning to anyone thinking of taking young children (say, ages eight and under) to see this movie: it will scare the shit out of them. Disturbing imagery abounds, from the steel-nosed hawk to Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy), who seems to prefer constricting his kill over a rattlesnake’s natural tendency to poison it to death. The words ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ are also used rather liberally, so if you’re still in the ‘earmuffs’ stage with your kids, your best bet is to leave them at home. Or pay exorbitant therapy bills later, your call.
To director Gore Verbinski’s credit, he’s just made a more Burtonian movie than Tim Burton himself has made in quite a while. The mariachi owls, the young ‘un (Abigail Breslin) constantly telling Rango that he’s going to die, the trippy dream sequences (and a nighttime scene that may have been a tribute to “Natural Born Killers”), it’s all delightfully weird and goofy, and beautifully rendered. The problem is that the script, by the normally reliable John Logan (“Gladiator,” “Sweeney Todd,” “The Aviator”), is underwritten and overwritten at the same time. The story has a very meta angle that is a pleasant surprise for a so-called kid’s movie, but the plot is given away in the first act. To make up for this shortcoming, the dialogue goes ridiculously over the top, turning simple sentences into riddles much like the Coen brothers did in “Raising Arizona,” which is fitting considering “Rango” sports multiple musical cues to that very movie. Ultimately, though, these flashes of loquaciousness are more of a distraction than an accent.
“Rango” is not a great movie, but it certainly had the potential to be. In a perfect world, it would beat a retread like “Gnomeo & Juliet” all to hell, but instead it’s drunk on its own cleverness without realizing just how dumb it really is. For a movie about finding one’s identity, “Rango” spends an awful lot of time searching for one of its own.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The Blu-ray for "Rango" is stuffed with extras, and good ones at that. Director Gore Verbinski contributes an audio commentary along with his right-hand men in the art and design department, and there is a massive featurette on the making of the movie, featuring interviews with the entire cast and footage of the actors performing the parts to give the animators an idea of how to draw them. There are a bunch of deleted scenes, most of which are only a few seconds long, but there is an alternate ending that is both amusing and crude. The most entertaining bit is when an animal expert scours the desert to hunt down the animals that live in the city of Dirt (turns out one of them actually lives in Madagascar). Lastly, there is a feature that allows you to watch the story board in real-time with the film using picture-in-picture. Fans of the movie will lap this stuff up.