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RANGO
(**)
Reviewer:   Jim "JR" Rutkowski
Director:   Gore Verbinski
Writer:
John Logan, Story By Gore Verbinski & James Ward Byrkit
Starring the Voices of:
Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin
Length:   107 minutes
Released:   030411
Rating:
PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking.
"...an exercise in cleverness, and that detachment robs the picture of the joy it craves."

Let this be said right off the top: Rango is a visual masterpiece and one of the finest works of computer animation to date. This is the first animated film where the animation was made by George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic special effects house and it shows. Every scale, every feather, every drop of water looks as if it’s been photographed, rather than programmed into a computer. There is an inner light and an inner life to these characters that too few animated films know how to create. Seen theatrically on a DLP projector, one can only sit in awe of the attention to detail, lush locations, and incredible textures. It’s all so amazing that you can lose yourself in this world, and the good news is that you wouldn’t be missing much else if you do. The rest of the film is uneven, poorly-paced, and short on laughs. This is one of those movies where the grandiose vision is there, but it never gels.

I don’t even know where to begin with this largely odd and plodding motion picture. “Rango” is an animated spaghetti western slapstick comedy with heavy hallucinatory asides and a taste for film references. Born from the screenwriter of “Gladiator” and directed by the man who launched and promptly sank the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, “Rango” is a tricky film to summarize, but a fairly easy picture to ignore.

Rango (voiced by Depp) is your run-of-the-mill chameleon, if not a bit lonely. One day, while being transported by car, his cage comes loose and shatters on the freeway. Alone and now free, Rango treks into the desert in search of anyone who can help him. He winds up in Dirt, a run-down town inhabited by all kinds of desert animals. The town is dealing with a major water shortage, though some of the locals smell a conspiracy. Through a bit of acting and happenstance, Rango becomes the town’s sheriff and looks to solve the water mystery.

With references ranging from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to Sergio Leone’s old westerns, Rango doesn’t hesitate to go for the gusto. Director Gore Verbinski and screenwriter John Logan must have had some interesting pitch meetings in order to get something this bizarre green-lit. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating audacity, but the real issues here are that Logan’s script does not provide an engaging plot (it seems more apt for a short), many big laughs, or very many likeable characters. It’s difficult to envision children, or really anyone, getting too attached to Rango or any of the supporting players.

Speaking of children, it’s up for debate as to whether this is really even a kids’ movie. Filled with adult themes and a mean streak that may catch many parents off-guard, the youngest of the bunch are probably better off at home. That begs the question: who is this movie for? Adults may enjoy some of the inside jokes with vintage films, but the story is too simplistic and probably breaches anyone’s tolerance for burp and fart jokes. Kids will be dazzled by the animation, but not much else. There’s no Woody or Buzz Lightyear to grasp on to.

Paramount and Industrial Light and Magic have done a groundbreaking job technically on Rango, but at some point someone should have asked, "what would Pixar do with this story?" It’s another piece of evidence in the case that you have to have an engaging story to tell before the next steps can be taken. There is an engaging parody of vintage westerns to be made, but Rango stumbles around in its own unevenness, flat jokes, and sluggish pacing. If only the script exhibited the same attention to detail as the animation.

“Rango” is an exercise in cleverness, and that detachment robs the picture of the joy it craves. Instead of getting caught up in Rango’s existential crisis and six-gun sham, Verbinksi would rather show off his staging expertise, while Logan dreams up leaden jokes and cutesy cameos (Depp reprises his take on Hunter S. Thompson for a windshield gag). “Rango” doesn’t build to anything substantial, instead dragging along interminably while its sense of humor succumbs to heat exhaustion.

RANGO © 2011 Paramount Pictures
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2011 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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