Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Released on: March 4th, 2011
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther
Once an imprisoned chameleon living inside ("In Shreads") a little aquarium where his only friend was a plastic fish, a female doll torso, and his elaborate imagination, Rango (voice by Johnny Depp) winds up on an escapade from divided road to wholesale wilderness which will seriously challenge his sense of self in the delightfully surprising, entertaining, animated movie, Rango.
After surviving a few car crashes and getting stranded under a sweltering landscape with the unknown hidden under every rock and soaring above the cacti, Rango and his zygodactylous feet hike it on over to the town of Dirt.
Like the "good people" of any little redneck town, Dirt immediately casts Rango as an outsider. To impress the various quasi-reptilian, amphibious, marsupial, rodent characters, Rango tells a few tall tales. With hides and hares yet no proof to back his fibs, the town becomes smitten with the stranger. Of course, as ill luck would have it, someone calls Rango's bluff and he will have to prove his worth, especially to Beans (voice by Isla Fisher), the lonely ranch girl with true grit and a strange defense mechanism.
After he manages to imprint his legend amongst the wild southwestern inhabitants, the Mayor (voice by Ned Beatty) makes Rango the Dirt Sheriff; and that is when his work becomes downright difficult. Rango may have convinced the town he killed seven bandits with one bullet (false) and a bird of prey (true), but his real challenge will be to find out who has been stealing the precious water supply.
With a renewed sense of hope found in the form of the one they call Rango, the notably un-cutesy town people form a posse and go hunting for the stolen water, only to find more and more hardship, treachery and even a little murder along the way.
As far as the hack director/leading man team behind the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise this is the second time Gore Verbinski has made something worth watching once (the first and last time was the 2005 film, The Weather Man, starring Nicolas Cage) and the first movie starring Depp since the 1998 film, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- a film Rango incorporates into its narrative -- that may be worth watching twice. Written by John Logan and based on a story by Logan, Verbinski and James Ward Byrkit, it seems pretty clear they had Depp in mind when writing Rango and he turns in an adequate, occasionally inspiring, performance at it.
(At any rate, Depp is an actor whose considerable talents continue to be wasted for big paychecks, punished by poor script choices and woefully encouraged by pitiful Oscar nominations. I look forward to the day he stops playing some eccentric malcontent and gets back to the level of acting he reached during the 1990s.)
On another hand, casting director Denise Chamian made some very intelligent voiceover casting choices in the form of Fisher (about time!); Beatty who does bad pretty well (i.e. He Got Game; Shooter; last year's overlooked The Killer Inside Me), Bill Nighy as the awesomely mean Rattlesnake Jake; Harry Dean Stanton as the ugliest of the ugly, Balthazar; Alfred Molina as the "Spanish" sagebrush sage, Roadkill; Gil Birmingham as the philosophical native, Wounded Bird; the diurnal owls who make up the Grecia-chorus (George Delhoyo, Verbinski, plus others) and 76-year-old Ian Abercrombie, who marvelously plays Ambrose -- my favorite character in the movie.
They and the others make for a good cast who embrace Logan's smart, playful dialogue, often with characters mumbling/speaking simultaneously (Oh, Altman). Set in the southwest, the screenplay willfully blends many familiar Spanish words (e.g. amigo, ese, loco) in with the English dialogue, which seems a calculated choice to not only include Spanglish-speaking viewers, but also to remind viewers the intrinsic part Latinos have played in terms of North American geopolitics -- from storytelling to music to idiomatic developments -- throughout our country's history.
Then there are some dialogue humdingers worthy of Lautréamont, Lewis Carroll or a good Coen Bros. film: "He basked in the adulation of his compañeros as he sunk deeper into his own guacamole," the chorus tells us; "It's a puzzle. It's a mammogram," Ambrose announces; "If this was heaven, we'd be eating pop tarts with Kim Novack," retorts Spirit of the West (Timothy Olyphant), channeling the Malpaso Man.
Keeping in touch with Rango's rambunctiousness, the score by Hans Zimmer and a soundtrack featuring Los Lobos are riotously rowdy and, frankly, quite gutsy for a film marketed toward family consumption. Be sure to stay for the rip roaring song during the final credits.
However, via its quest to secure the box office base, Rango is not going to drown out anyone's sense of entertainment entitlement. Eventually the good guys drink up and the bad guys get washed away as the film proudly riverruns toward the false conclusions that the powerful get splashed with their comeuppance and the good guy swimmingly emerges over all adversity while getting the girl to boots. To water it down, regardless of Rango's attributes, it is not going tragically Chinatown or USA today.