Ed reviews "Rango"

Fear and lizarding in Las Vegas: Johnny Depp stars in "Rango."

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.


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