Wrangling Rango

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 9, 2011

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I forget which Pirates Of The Carribean sequels we were discussing at the time, but I recall my brilliant colleague Jim Ridley objecting to director Gore Verbinski’s aesthetic in general, calling it “mandatory fun.”

That phrase sprang to mind more than once during Rango, Verbinski’s computer-animated hellzapoppin’ Western pastiche that’s so ferociously determined to cram every last CinemaScope frame with so many visual grotesques, movie-buff allusions and forced boisterousness, the very experience of watching it becomes deadening. This movie made me very, very tired.

Johnny Depp stars as a wise-cracking chameleon in a Hawaiian shirt, stranded on a desert highway after his terrarium falls off a truck. Eventually he discovers a miniature frontier town called Dirt, populated by icky mice and mole folk who believe his outlandish tall tales and elect this jittery blabbermouth as their new sheriff. Depp is in full-on manic free-association mode here, and it’s a testament to just how cluttered this picture is that his Robin Williams routine feels like the most subdued thing about it.

Borrowing the plot and entire scenes from Chinatown, with Ned Beatty’s dastardly mayor even wearing John Huston’s hat, Rango calls to mind a question raised by Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: Is Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic really appropriate story material for a children’s cartoon? Systemic corruption regarding irrigation is hardly compelling kiddie fodder, and Rango ’s labored machinations call to mind the jumbled convolutions of Verbinski’s Pirates series. He’s never been a filmmaker you would accuse of being light on his feet.

The weirdness of the film is, however, fascinating. Tipping its 10-gallon hat to illustrator Ralph Steadman on several occasions, Rango has a meticulously crafted case of the uglies. Most of these creatures are just plain revolting to look at, with the ramshackle town of Dirt as photo-realistically grubby as any CGI landscape we’ve ever seen. But there’s just so damn much of it, all pitched at the same antic, unwavering tone—sensory overload kicks in early and often

It’s a rare computer animated film not released in 3-D. I think because an extra dimension of this would cause seizures.

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