Mark Reviews Movies

RANGO (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: The voices of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone, Timothy Olyphant

MPAA Rating: PG (for rude humor, language, action and smoking)

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 3/4/11


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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 3, 2011

The little chameleon is experiencing a bit of existential ennui. "Who am I," he soliloquizes, after playing the hero in a melodrama of his own devising—an unresponsive repertoire of synthetic supporting players (a fake, plastic tree and the torso of a cracked polystyrene girl) simply cannot keep up with his improvisational skills. He doesn't understand they are unable to meet his standard of being alive, either.

Rango is about a loony, lonely little lizard who revels in discovering there are living, breathing playmates to be found in the harsh world outside his glass case. It begins a tale of generalized absurdity—of the inherent dangers to stepping outside into the literal scorching sunlight of reality—and becomes a comedy of errors and willfully mistaken identity based on the folklore of the evolving Old West.

While it's unfair to reduce these animated ventures to a case of kids vs. adults, Rango is most certainly a film in which the adults come out ahead, as the children—still smarter than most give them credit—come along for the colorful, rowdy ride. For those in need of further proof, one need only know that there's a reference to Hunter S. Thompson within the first ten minutes, wildly driving down the highway in his convertible toward that neon oasis in the desert.

The chameleon Rango (voice of Johnny Depp), who takes on the moniker after noticing a "Made in Durango" etching on a glass full of what can only be dubbed firewater (making for an extended bit of unintentional immolation for the cigar-smoker sitting next to him), finds his own sanctuary from birds of prey, unforgiving sunlight, and the seemingly rambling words of the Spirit of the West from an armadillo (voice of Alfred Molina) who's half-flattened from speeding traffic. It is the town of Dirt, appropriately named as they are suffering from an unnatural drought. One of the townsfolk, a salamander prone to freezing fits when she gets riled up named Beans (voice of Isla Fisher), brings him to the outskirts of town, right certain (and certainly right to think) the stranger means trouble.

Rango, keeping with his fanciful routine in the terrarium, decides to make himself out to be a hero—a gunslinging vagabond who boasts of killing some villainous brothers with one bullet (His improvisational skills are put to the test when an impressed bar patron cries, "All seven?"). The people of the town, living on a diet of whatever that drink is in place of water, believe him, especially after he haphazardly defeats a hawk that invades Dirt with one, very lucky bullet. The mayor (voice of Ned Beatty), who orders his populace to partake in a zealous dance once a week for water, makes Rango the Sheriff.

The little guy is more than incompetent at his job, depleting a week's worth of the town's water reserve in an attempt to show how important conservation is and directing potential thieves to said fresh water reserve. The resulting plot involves poor Rango botching every attempt he makes to redeem his secret error, including dressing in drag for no particular reason except that it gives him a new role to play.

Animated, anthropomorphized animals typically leave behind reality in favor of appeal on the "cute" spectrum, and, with the exception Rango—he with disproportionate head—the rest of the cast of critters topple into the opposite end of the scale (Beans could be another exception, save for the unnatural quality of sticking curly locks atop the head of an amphibian). These are twisted, barely recognizable creations that vaguely resemble their real counterparts (So much so that it takes a few good lucks at a cat before one can tell it's supposed to be one). It's a cheerfully grotesque menagerie with gristly textures and teeth that would need three years of serious orthodontic work a piece before anyone would think they're slightly straighter than they are now. Even the Spirit of the West is a grizzled but admiring caricature of a famous movie cowboy (voiced so convincingly by Timothy Olyphant that the credits are necessary to double-check that it isn't the original).

Rango has a boisterous and rebellious spirit in all that it does, from an owl Mariachi band that serves as Greek chorus to the chameleon's impending doom to the borderline gruesome nature of some jokes (the armadillo and bats that explode on impact during a chase through a canyon stand out). It's frantically and refreshingly fun.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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