RANGO (RATES PG)   3 STARS03-30-11-rango.jpg

I was looking forward to Rango (107 minutes) as a cute little animated comedy western. Then I realized that it was directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean). I mean, he looks good on paper and so does the Pirates trilogy; he just falls short on execution. I keep trying to watch his movies, but once you get beyond the pretty colors there isn’t much there worth re-watching. And with Johnny Depp in the lead role, why even bother? Although it was fun to watch him shift from Captain Jack Sparrow to the Mad Hatter to Willy Wonka to Don Juan DeMarco without ever really making it to Clint Eastwood or Gary Cooper.

A nameless pet chameleon with a weird neck and aspirations towards stage acting (Johnny Depp) is bounced from his aquarium because his owners are morons and failed to properly secure their pet when traveling. He meets an armadillo (Alfred Molina, channeling George Lopez) seeking the Spirit of the West. Armadillo sends him out to a desert town, and on his way he almost gets eaten by a hawk. It’s a cute character establishing scene that leads into a Dali-esque nightmare. Remember when Homer Simpson ate the Guatemalan Insanity Peppers? Yeah. Like that.

He wakes in a wash of water to the oddly appealing lizard Beans (Isla Fisher). She is a rancher’s daughter with an out-of-whack survival instinct that sends her into mini-comas at inconvenient moments, and she reminds me of when Bugs Bunny used to put on a wig and dress up as a girl bunny. She offers him a ride back to town in between working out her daddy issues, and nameless chameleon ends up in Dirt.

Not that he stays nameless for long! In scene reminiscent of Mickey Mouse’s “Brave Little Tailor” from 1938, our hero names himself Rango and brags that he has killed the seven Jenkins’ Brothers with one bullet. His hyperbole gets him the attention of the entire town, which is a bit risky and leads him into a bar fight with some local toughs (including Ray Winstone). Which in turn catches the attention of a hawk with a silver beak (raising the question … how can a hawk afford such a costly accessory?) He manages to evade and destroy the hawk by dropping a house on it and claiming its ruby slippers. At least I assume there were ruby slippers involved, because Gore Verbinksi is not all that original as a director.

Having established his reputation, Rango is taken to meet Mayor Tortoise John (Ned Beatty) and is appointed the new Sheriff. Beans then demands that he investigate the local water shortage. On his first night as Sheriff, Rango inadvertently makes the water shortage worse by sending Balthazar the Thieving Prairie Dog (Harry Dean Stanton) directly to the town’s only remaining water. Rango is finally forced to do some actual work, and he puts together a posse to go after the town’s water.

The posse tracks down the thieves by using the tunnels built underneath the town, and find the covered water cooler/safe at their Prairie Dog hideout. Following a pretty nifty chase scene that involved racing roosters and passenger bats, the posse captures their targets only to find out that the water was long gone before the water cooler was taken. Too bad Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) has returned to town before Rango can figure out what happened to the water.

Jake kicks Rango out of town and according to the Greek chorus of Mariachi Owls, he hits bottom. Luckily, the Spirit of the West (Timothy Olyphant channeling Clint Eastwood) helps him out, and he heads back to the town to call out the villain behind the water shortage.

Overall I didn’t mind sitting through it, and fans of Westerns (and Hollywood in general) will need more than two hands to count up all the movie references.

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