Gore Verbinski's Rango is an unsuccessful homage to Westerns and Johnny Depp movies guaranteed to bore and/or confuse children and adults of all ages. As such, and quite unfortunately and disappointingly, it's a missed opportunity of large dimensions.
Rango is an aquarium chameleon and thespian of little note who finds himself thrust into a quest of limited proportions when his aquarium scatters on the freeway and he heads off for the Western-ish varmint town of Dirt.
The movie looks great. I can't find any fault with the animators, who have made a gorgeous desert landscape full of fascinating-looking animals. Indeed, the first five or ten minutes of the film are nearly perfect, full of promises never delivered upon--and interestingly made references.
References! I listed over 30 specific, direct references to famous film Westerns, Johnny Depp movies and others. Some of the most direct are to the new Coens' True Grit, Kermit the Frog, Star Wars movies, Chinatown and of course, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, whether in character or plot, or in a visual, comedic or dialogue reference. Also The Rainmaker (1956), Arizona Dream, Dead Man and "The Andy Griffith Show." But I digress.
I wish the movie had digressed, too, because some of the references to other films are too obvious, too shoehorned and it does take away a lot from the final product called Rango. Indeed my opinion is that it is not a finished product, more unformed ideas thrown against a wall.
The film has no idea of its tone. This ranges from funny to eerie to serious to bad taste. It is funny in places, but then throws in some lame pun joke or something which doesn't go over, or just shows us something weird or violent which doesn't relate much to anything else. Most of the slapstick is funny, or at least in rhythm, and some chase scenes and quest scenes make an impact, then comes "The Spirit of the West."
Rango feels a bit like The Green Hornet of this year. Both films attempt to use special effects or computer rendering around what feels like a mostly improvised script. This sounds like a great idea, and even kind of works in The Green Hornet, but Rango definitely needed a stronger story editor or dramaturge with enforceable opinions.
I even liked the music, though not so much the Greek chorus of mariachi owls. They get to intersect with the story some, like Jonathan Richman's troubadour in There's Something About Mary, but again, that worked because it was funny all the way through.
It would be an interesting experiment to see how much crud you could cut away and make Rango a better film. At least twenty or twenty-five minutes, I'd say. To make it great, you'd have to invent and create a lot more footage, I'm sure. If you're a movie nerd like me, you could have fun just listing the references, but that certainly doesn't mean it's a fun or good movie in itself. The most frequent sound from both children and adults in my three audiences for Rango was not laughter, and it was not applause, but "Hmph." And I concur. (I watched it three times because Roger Ebert gave it four stars, so I wanted to triple-check, plus I was counting references.)
Internet Movie Database Entry
Roger Ebert Review
Visit Alex Christensen's
Democrat Guide to the 2012 Race for President