Movies I thought of while watching Rango: High Noon, The Man with No Name Trilogy, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Cat Ballou, Chinatown, Apocalypse Now, Yojimbo, Unforgiven, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Movies I did not think of while watching Rango: Rango.
At what point does a movie stop being its own film, and start becoming a clip show of Hollywood's greatest hits? When John Logan was writing Rango, perhaps he should have put a little less effort into paying homage to so many great films. His basic story is a very interesting one: a lizard that has been kept as a pet suddenly finds himself in an old west town called Dirt, where he has reinvented himself as a gunslinger. That lizard (voiced admirable by Johnny Depp) is the titular Rango, who enjoyed putting on theatrical performances in his terrarium before he suffered an environment change. Shortly after establishing himself as an expert marksmen (accidentally), Rango is promoted to town Sheriff by the Mayor of Dirt (Ned Beatty), a character obviously derived from John Huston's character in Chinatown. But as Rango delves deeper into an investigation about the town's water supply, he finds that the old west may not be the best place for a thespian lizard.
The main problem with Rango is lack of identity. The lead lizard himself is sufferring an identity crisis throughout the film, constantly asking through gloomy voiceover "who am I?" While watching Rango, I sometimes felt as though the movie were asking me "what am I?" The only thing I can say for sure is that Rango is a western, through and through. But where Logan and director Gore Verbinski go wrong is they constantly remind us of past great films, but fail to make Rango anywhere near as good as them. It reaches a point where you ask, "well, why don't I just see those movies?" The highlight of the film comes in the very beginning when Rango is running away from a hawk with another desert creature. This scene is both funny and exciting, and one of the few times that Rango is it's own film. After the scene ends however, the clip show begins.
The animation of Rango is really the saving grace of the film. Every character, though ugly, is beautifully rendered. The most interesting character to look at is bad guy Rattlesnake Jake, voiced by Bill Nighy. His winding, scaly body leads to a tail topped with a Gatling gun instead of a rattle. Every scene with him is thrilling to watch, and in fact were the only times during Rango when my heart actually felt involved in the film. Unfortunately, his scenes don't show up until much later in the film, and they are very scarce even then.
One more important thing that must be stressed is that Rango is NOT a children's movie. Despite being produced by Nickelodeon, this film is riddled with adult humor that children will not understand. On top of that, the humor is not even that funny. You may smirk at an inappropriate comment, but there is very little to laugh at here. Even though the MPAA chose to leave the word "violence" out of it's rating, Rango is littered with it, from claims to cutting off other characters "giblets" to a supporting character who constantly walks around with an arrow through his eye.
Rango is an hour and 47 minutes, but feels a lot longer. It has terrific animation, well crafted action scenes, but an overall slow pace and a very annoying lead character in Rango. Many will find the references to other films endearing and fun, but I found them to be distracting. You are probably better off just watching any of the films I listed earlier. My rating (3/10)