Johnny Depp’s greatest talent as an actor is to inject a heavy dose of “weird” into any movie he is a part of. I happen to be a massive fan of Depp’s particular style of “weird” and think any movie would be made better for it. OK, maybe not “Schindler’s List,” but practically any movie.
Depp’s voice alone is enough to throw things delightfully off-kilter, as proven in the pitch-perfect, computer-animated film “Rango.”
I guess the best way to describe “Rango” is to imagine taking four-parts Spaghetti Western, one-part “The Lion King,” two-parts “Chinatown” and three-parts “Blazing Saddles”; dumping it all in a blender and pressing “puree.”
Depp plays the titular character Rango, a bug-eyed, squiggly-necked pet chameleon whose lonely existence is spent in his aquarium putting on dramatic, one-man productions for no one in particular.
Suddenly fate, in the form of a vehicular mishap, leaves Rango alone along the side of a blistering highway in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
He receives mystic guidance from an armadillo aptly named Roadkill (Alfred Molina), to head deep into the desert to a town called Dirt.
Once there he finds all manner of varmints and critters in a town that is quite literally drying up, as water is scarce and becoming increasingly harder to come by.
Completely out of his element, Rango decides to assume the role of a rough-and-tumble frontiersman and thanks to a lot of false bravado and a little luck he thoroughly convinces the townsfolk – to the point they make him their sheriff.
Tasked with finding out what happened to the water, Rango crosses paths with the requisite Western character-types. There is the mayor with murky motivations in the form of a leathery-old turtle (Ned Beatty), the no-nonsense love interest Beans (Isla Fisher) who is a newt trying to hold onto her family farm, the cynical kid looking for a hero (Abigail Breslin) and the dastardly, no-good villain, Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy).
“Rango” was directed by Gore Verbinski who helmed all three “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, which were basically big cartoons in their own right. Say what you like about the dude, but Verbinski certainly can put together an action sequence and “Rango” is chock full of them.
What is typically the case with animated films is the actors deliver their lines alone in a recording booth, but Verbinski rather unconventionally assembled the entire cast in one place and recorded them acting out their lines.
While this method doesn’t exactly revolutionize the medium, it does subtly improve the interaction between the characters and makes conversation between a chameleon and a horny toad seem as realistic as is possible.
When all is said and done, “Rango” is a delightfully strange little movie that effectively offers up a nice little “it’s OK to be yourself” message. Be aware that it might be a little on the dark side for very young children and it adopts a tone that is more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny.
Visually though, the movie is nothing short of spectacular and avoids the 3D craze proving that plain, ol’ two dimensions can still be eye-popping.
And really, who better than Depp to play a chameleon suffering from an identity crisis? It’s like his entire career has been summed up in one goofy little reptile. The only way they could ever hope to top it would be to get Mel Gibson to play an emotionally-unstable kangaroo. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the sequel.
“Rango” is rated PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking.