PG, 3.5 stars
Influenced by Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in
Las Vegas, this Johnny Depp film is one
weird-ass flick, and a feast for the eyes and ears.
What a weird-ass movie. Rango, a computer-animated trek/western, appears to be strongly influenced
by the hallucinatory world laid out in gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson's Fear
and Loathing in Las Vegas. Johnny Depp
provides the voice for the lead character, a freaked-out lizard dressed in a
Hawaiian shirt that looks like he stepped out of a Ralph Steadman illustration
for a Thompson article. Or the 1998 movie version of the book, which starred
Depp as Thompson. Come to think of it, the lizard, with his big, creepy
bug-eyes and neck that juts out at odd angles, looks a lot like the warped
image of Thompson on the posters for the movie.
Hell, an animated version of Thompson makes a cameo
appearance in his Fear and Loathing
persona of Raoul Duke, when the lizard, with a happy face antenna ball stuck on
his head, splats onto the windshield of a car driven by Duke, complete with
traveling partner Dr. Gonzo sprawled in the back seat.
Pretty cool, eh? Maybe for me and a lot of you, maybe not
for people expecting a zippy, warm-hearted animated comedy western. Make no
mistake, Rango is not a family-friendly
film. It doesn't go out of its way to be overtly offensive, but there's no
getting around the fact that these critters are wandering pretty close to the
abyss and are in no mood to babysit anyone's children.
Director and co-writer Gore Verbinski also directed the
first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies
and Rango demonstrates the
filmmaker's tendency to go on tangents. The film starts off squirrelly and
slow, taking its own sweet time before finally getting to the dusty western
town where the storyline promoted in the TV ads kicks into gear. There are few
concessions made for audience members. While the characters are interesting,
they aren't particularly likable. Guarded and ornery is more like it. Visually,
the movie is a feast – bright and clear with incredibly-detailed
animation by Industrial Light and Magic – their first animated feature.
Truth be told, the animation may be too detailed – some of the critters are textured so dramatically
that it's hard to discern their features.
After a brief sequence establishing the lizard's imagination
and his estrangement from others, the film breaks into two pieces: the surreal
desert quest and the expected comic western. The surreal desert quest features
an armadillo spirit guide (Alfred Molina), an appearance by a Clint Eastwood
spaghetti-western-era-styled "Spirit of the West" (Timothy Olyphant), and an
abundance of existential meandering.
The expected comic western includes lots of slapstick, which
tempers the crankiness a little. Nods and winks to other movies abound. This is
the crowd-pleasing section of the movie, though it's hard to completely
surrender to the humor when the characters are dying of thirst. Citizens of the
little town called Dirt include earthy potential romantic interest Beans (Isla
Fisher), a greedy mayor (Ned Beatty) and a host of colorful western types. The
voice cast also includes Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean
Stanton and Ray Winstone).
Aside from the aforementioned problem with overdone
character textures, Rango is a feast for
the eyes and the ears, with cinematographer Roger Deakins helping insure that
the desert looks sufficiently epic and intimidating, while Hans Zimmer makes
sure the spaghetti-western score is cooked al dente. Rango would have been better served with a tighter script
and a little more heart, but if you're as big a fan of hallucinatory
eccentricity as I am, you're in for a treat. A weird-ass, occasionally
off-putting treat, but a treat nonetheless.