This is a review of Rango that I submitted to the Oberlin Review:
At one point in the film Rango, the titular character decides to put on a play in order to get close to a group of ‘prospectors’ he believes have raided his town’s water supply. One of his fellow thespians comments on the unoriginality of the plot of said play, but he could just as well have been referring to Rango itself.
Rango seems to take great delight in paying homage to classic western (and a few non-western) films. The plot itself is a combination of Chinatown, and the Three Amigos. A chameleon, lost in the desert, arrives at the town of Dirt (yes, that name WILL be milked for all its worth) and is mistaken for a gun-slinging action hero. Appointed sheriff, he must unravel the mystery of the town’s disappearing water supply before everyone dies of thirst. The story of the bumbling fool who is mistaken for someone he’s not ahs been done to death, of course, and Rango’s plot plays out exactly as one might expect. Rango holds no surprises, and though many of the cliché scenes are meant to be so, there is a fine line between paying homage and becoming the very sort of film you are poking fun at. Rango doesn’t so much cross that line as tap-dance back and forth across it for two hours.
Which is not to say Rango is bad. The lackluster story is bolstered by a great performance from Johnny Depp, who seems to take great delight in the role, and whose enthusiasm is infectious. Most of the supporting cast do a good enough job, as well, though for the most part they have little more to do than speak in southern accents and offer the occasional one-liner.This really is a one-man film, and Depp manages to carry the show.
As a comedy, Rango is a hit-and-miss affair. At times, the would-be sheriff’s bumbling antics are so in-your-face and repetitive that they become almost awkward to watach. You feel sorry for the film for trying so hard to impress upon us the obvious point that yes, Rango is clumsy, and no, he is not well-suited to the role of a gunslinging badass. Rango’s funniest (and funnest) moments are its most unexpected, such as a scene in which he has a nightmare of a giant plastic goldfish and a headless Barbie, or when he comes upon a dying armadillo that has been halved by a passing car while attempting to cross the street in order to attain spiritual enlightenment on ‘the other side’, or, perhaps best of all, when he encounters an giant CGI version of Clint Eastwood collecting golden statues in a golf cart. When Rango is zany and eccentric, it excels. And funnily enough, when this spoof movie tries to spoof, it tends to drag a bit. Luckily for us all, Rango contains enough in wittiness and charm to balance out its faults. The result is a film that, while flawed, contains enough fun moments to make it well worth a watch.