There must be something in the water

Spoons, left, voiced by Alex Manugian, and Rango, voiced by Johnny Depp, are shown in a scene from the animated feature “Rango.”

Homages can be a tricky achievement. If you go too far, it’s gimmicky. If it’s too ambiguous, the reference is lost. On top of that, most hardly work in movies simply because it seems as if the director is plifering energy from another film. And “Rango,” the newest animated movie to hit the silver screen, comes across that way at first, but not in the way you may think. Instead of alluding to another cute, predicitable Pixar movie (the CGI?animation here was created by Industrial Light & Magic), “Rango” (directed by Gore Verbinski, “Pirates of the Caribbean”) is far closer to “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” tacky Hawaiian shirt and all. And “Rango,” on many levels, seems to be just as drug-induced and trippy, if not more so because the titular character is a talking lizard who has some fanciful delusions of grandeur, involving using a single bullet in a most ingenious way. But that’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but instead to prove just how wacky “Rango” is.

As the movie starts, Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp, “Pirates of the Caribbean”) finds himself lost in his own fantasy world, only for it to be shattered moments later, leaving him stranded in the middle of the Mohave Desert. After finding his way to the aptly named town of Dirt, Rango invents a gunsilnger version of himself and wows the locals with his heroic tales of bloody brutality. And as tends to happens to main characters who weave such webs of deceit, Rango traps himself in his persona, “sinking further into the guacamole.” (Crazy case in point: That phrase was coined by a mariachi-style band of owls who resemble a Greek chorus and sing about Rango’s ever-approaching demise.) The main concern of the local citizens is a dwindling supply of water for which there is no viable explanation. And after performing a feat that left folks in awe, Rango is promoted to sherriff and is charged with protecting the town and its slowly evaporating water supply. But in trying to answer the age-old question, “Who are you?” Rango finds more trouble than he bargained for. What then follows could have been pulled from a Louis L’Amour novel: a sadsack of a town, townies who haven’t seen a bath in their lives, elected officials who don’t have the best interests of their constituents in minds, menacing enemies and a love interest that seemed destined to happen.

The voiceovers for the main characters, no matter what crazy thing they are saying, showcases some real effort. The chemistry between the leads is palpable, thanks in large part to the zany antics of Depp’s character. However, what really stands out are the graphics. “Rango” is simply beautiful, especially the arrestingly slimy, scaly and hairy characters. You can easily get lost in the graphical world “Rango” conjures up. On the flip side, it’s almost a bit too easy to get lost in this headache-inducing plot. Similar to “Inception” and “Black Swan,” you can never be completely sure what you’re seeing is reality or just some imagined Western dream sequence. To make matters worse, just as in some dreams, the movie leaves you hanging, having left several loose ends untied.

For what it is (and it’s definitely not a children’s movie), “Rango” is fun and clever. But the craziness of Rango’s journey to find who he really is just wanders off into the desert one too many times. Word of advice: Make sure to have some water with you; it seems to be at a premium where you’ll be going.

Three stars out of five.

Dominic Baez is the copy editor/paginator for the East Oregonian. Follow his movie blog, Silver Screening, for the latest trailers, clips and extras at silverscreening.wordpress.com.

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