Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Movie Review: Rango

Rango ****
Directed by:
Gore Verbinski.
Written by: John Logan & Gore Verbinski & James Ward Byrkit.
Starring: Johnny Depp (Rango / Lars), Isla Fisher (Beans), Abigail Breslin (Priscilla), Ned Beatty (Mayor), Alfred Molina (Roadkill), Bill Nighy (Rattlesnake Jake), Stephen Root (Doc / Merrimack / Mr. Snuggles), Harry Dean Stanton (Balthazar), Timothy Olyphant (Spirit of the West), Ray Winstone (Bad Bill), Ian Abercrombie (Ambrose).

Rango is an animated comedy that children are going to enjoy because it’s fast paced, colorful and funny – but that adults, especially adult film lovers – are going to absolutely love. It has been a while since I had as much fun at a movie as I did at Rango, which is proof that Pixar is not the only outfit out there making great animated film. This film is from Gore Verbinski, who has spent the better part of his career making Pirates of the Caribbean movies (although he is not doing the next one). This film, like the first Pirates movie, is fun, fast paced, witty and drowning in movie love. For a film lover like me, nothing could be better.

Rango is a lizard who leads a lonely existence. He fancies himself an actor, and puts on elaborate plays, but there is no one there to watch them, or even to act with him – his companions are a toy fish and a headless Barbie doll. We soon find out why – Rango is someone’s pet, but when the car he is riding in hits a bump, his aquarium falls out and smashes on the ground, leaving Rango, for the first time in his life, to fend for himself. He meets the aptly named Roadkill, who tells him of a town out in the desert, so off Rango goes, crossing the desert on foot. When he gets to the town, it is straight out of an old Western. The town is suffering its worst drought ever, with water nowhere to be found. Rango is not exactly welcomed into the community – so he becomes an actor once again, and puts on a tough fa├žade. Through a series of weird things, he kills an eagle, and becomes a hero. But it isn’t long before the real Rango comes out.

The plot is pretty much standard issue kids movie stuff – the hero acts like a tough guy, even though he’s not, and then gets humiliated and leaves – only to triumphantly return in the last reel. Come to think of it, that describes many Westerns as well. Verbinski is a clever director, and he plays with Western stereotypes the whole way through. Film buffs will love to spot the film references littered throughout the movie, both obvious and not so obvious. Verbinski also fills the screen with so much clever visual details, I have a feeling it is going to take a few times through in order to catch them all.

The supporting cast of characters helps Verbinski a great deal in poking loving fun of the old Westerns. I particularly loved Ned Beatty as the turtle mayor of the small town, who looks, sounds and acts just like you expect Chinatown era John Huston would – if he was a turtle of course. Isla Fisher is the lovable love interest for Rango – a no nonsense farm girl, trying to make her way after her father’s tragic death. Bill Nighy is excellent as the evil rattlesnake (is there any other kind?). Abigail Breslin has the role of the smart aleck kid who gets to tell Rango that “Strangers don’t last long around here” – and the Stephen Root plays a trio of characters, who are comic versions of the stock characters we saw in all those John Ford westerns. And finally, I will not spoil one of my favorite moments in the film, but I did love Timothy Olyphant as the “Spirit of the West”.

But this really is Johnny Depp’s film, even though he is only a voice behind Rango, it continues his string of lovably eccentric characters, where Depp makes interesting choices in his performance. In fact, it was actually quite refreshing to see (or I guess hear) Depp be this good in a film – as it has been a while since he did more than just coast, either on his charm or his weirdness. His Rango truly is a wonderful comic creation for Depp.

I have always thought that Verbinski was an underrated director. He improved upon what I thought was an overrated Japanese horror movie when he made The Ring, and his The Weatherman is one of the most underrated dark comedies of the last decade. The Pirates movies became far more bloated than they should have been as they moved along, and I am glad that he is finally out from under them, but at their best, they did show some great imagination on his part. Rango takes that all a step further, and proves that Verbinski is the real deal. I had an almost impossible amount of fun at Rango – if I see a better animated film in 2011, I will be truly stunned.

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