"Rango" Movie Review: Laughs Are Scarce in the Brainy Town of Dirt

A rollicking, surreal, and existential kids' Western that worships at the altars of Sergio Leone, Hunter S. Thompson, and Chinatown, Rangodrowns under the weight of discordant objectives and influences.

With his crooked neck, bug eyes, and Hawaiian shirt, reptilian Rango (boisterously voiced by Johnny Depp) is a Ralph Steadman creation come to anxious anthropomorphic life. A lizard with delusions of dramatist grandeur, Rango is unceremoniously stranded in a simmering Nevada desert, eventually stumbling upon the drought-plagued frontier town of Dirt.

Assuming the part of a lifetime, Rango feigns gunslinger grit and nabs himself the job of sheriff tasked with returning water to the thirsty citizenry — a heroic mission that director Gore Verbinski and Industrial Light & Magic (both working on their first fully animated feature) visualize with inventive photorealistic cartoonishness.

Rango's ultimate quest is a search for the self, which his saga suggests — via myriad Thompson references and meta-cinema twists, including run-ins with Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo as well as the Man With No Name — is achievable through role-playing fiction.

Yet for all its genre-bending cleverness and technical dexterity, Rango's overstuffed plot fails to consistently blend its brainy pretensions with its chase-and-slapstick family-film obligations. Like Dirt's H2O supply, laughs are scarce.

 
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