March 17, 2011

The (Detached) Adventures of Rango

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When I first saw the trailer for Gore Verbinski’s Rango, I thought something along the lines of, “Eh, that could be kind of funny.” It’s just a little sad that my expectations were met exactly. It’s not that the movie was bad, it just wasn’t really good. Individual scenes by themselves ranged anywhere from decent to actually quite well done. Together, though, Rango often had difficulty transitioning between events, creating an awkward flow from one scene to the next. It had a hard time remembering plot details, too, portraying certain characters one way then altering that characterization at the last minute and, more than once, leaving scenarios unexplained. The storyline isn’t bad and the main characters are fun and believable, but Rango’s writing lacked the attention to detail that would have put it on par with the consistenly awesome work put out by Pixar or Dreamworks.

Rango follows the story of a pet lizard, aspiring to be an actor as he is unexpectedly catapulted into the Mojave Desert from his owner’s car. After talking to a nearly road-killed armadillo about destiny and the “spirit of the west,” he finds himself headed in the direction of the town of Dirt. While there, he assumes the role of “Rango,” a tough, murderous gun-slinger capable of taking out the seven infamous Jenkins Brothers with one bullet. Predictably, this decision gets Rango into more and more trouble as he unintentionally kills the town’s hawk oppressor, is subsequently made sheriff and is charged with the task of protecting the town’s remaining reserves of water, a task he inevitably fails miserably at. Rango spends the rest of the movie trying to find the town’s water and attempting to discover who he truly is.

Johnny Depp is excellent as Rango, ranging his voice to suit every situation Rango gets himself into. Depp makes Rango believable and sympathetic, and it’s interesting, to say the least, to watch a well known actor play a lizard trying to be an actor. Rango himself is a pretty good character, always doing his best to play whatever role he is acting out, while still retaining his nervous and twitchy tendencies. Isla Fisher plays a fantastic Beans, the female lead and Rango’s love interest. Her character in general presented a refreshing, realistic change from typical female leads. Beans is an incredibly believable character, and her headstrong and outspoken manner makes her likeable and interesting.

Undoubtedly the best part of the film was the animation. No details were left out here, with even the smallest feature attended to on every scale and every eye. Characters’ actions and expressions are wonderfully articulated, and the appearance of the setting is amazingly lifelike. The large eyes of the animal characters are especially apparent and are also incredibly detailed and, often, beautiful.

That being said, the structure and flow of the story had major issues, which prevented me from enjoying the movie as much as I might have. Scenes had the habit of awkwardly switching from humorous or ridiculous to overly serious and quite often preachy. This was most obvious during a scene where Rango is up to his usual ridiculous antics trying to impress his newly formed posse as they sit around a campfire, and then suddenly they are offering a prayer to the spirit of the west and asking for hope. And that is certainly not the only such incident.

Plot details also had a way of being forgotten. For example, I’m fairly certain that one of the characters died at the end, but I’m still not entirely sure. No one mourns his death, and it certainly wasn’t ever clarified. Another character does explicitly die, but it’s from out of nowhere, as the audience wasn’t even made aware he was missing in the first place.

The movie does have its moments, though. More than a few individual scenes stand out on their own, with good, believable dialogue and character interactions. One of the most interesting scenes in the movie is when Rango first starts acting as “Rango.” The scene is smooth and believable, and does not feel forced at all.

Rango suffers from a multitude of structural flaws and probably more slap-stick gags than necessary, but overall it wasn’t too bad of a film. I enjoyed myself for the most part, and would certainly watch the film again, for the animation and Johnny Depp if nothing else. Fans of old western films may want to see it in theaters simply for the fun of finding every reference, but for the rest of the world, save yourself some money and rent it instead.

Original Author: Fiona Modrak