Tuesday, November 29, 2011

RANGO (2011)

Gore Verbinski, director of the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, makes his feature-length animation debut with this visually stylish mash-up of HIGH NOON and CHINATOWN.  The film’s story, however, which he co-wrote with James Ward Byrkit and screenwriter John Logan, fails to match the film’s arresting look.  The writers pack in many iconic western moments, and Verbinski plays myriad visual homage to classic movies, but the film fails to engage beyond Name That Reference.  When our hero, the Lizard With No Name (Johnny Depp), becomes stranded along a desert freeway, a mystic armadillo (Alfred Molina) points him to Dirt, a remote frontier town populated by rats, turtles, snakes, and other desert creatures.  The lizard dons the moniker Rango and presents himself as a peerless gunman who can take out multiple targets with one bullet.  After accidentally killing a hawk that has been terrorizing the town, Rango is made sheriff by the Mayor (Ned Beatty channeling John Huston).  Dirt uses water as currency (it is even stored in a bank) but suffers from drought.  For this reason most landowners have left, leaving the struggling Beans (Isla Fisher) one of the few to remain.  Though Rango’s first task is to protect the dwindling water supply, the bank is robbed.  So the newly minted lawman must lead a posse into the desert to salvage his reputation.  The voiceover work is journeyman, and Fisher’s head-scratching accent often unintelligible.  Beatty comes off best, as does Ray Winstone as Bad Bill, while Bill Nighy barely registers as villainous Rattlesnake Jake.  The confusing lead character, however, is the film’s central problem.  If Rango is essentially a good-hearted oaf in over his head, why does he misrepresent himself to the townsfolk from the outset?  Are we to view him as we would the delusional Inspector Clouseau and laugh at his self-made misfortunes?  If that’s the case, the choice fails to play out.  Rango is so incompetent that the characters around him seem simple-minded in their inability to see through him, leaving no one for whom to root.  In their frantic quest to pay tribute to cinema classics, Verbinski and company have crafted a film that falls far short of the moniker classic.

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