Johnny Depp’s character, the chameleon Rango, is a thespian without an audience, and that’s not a reflection of his acting skills. He just happens to be stuck in a terrarium with a palm tree and a wind-up goldfish. But he doesn’t let his circumstances deter him from working on his craft. Day and night, he practices skits and emotions, until finally, his patience pays off. Accidentally left in the middle of the highway while his owners move, he is left to his own devices, and so he acts.
When the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing lizard walks into the town of Dirt, he looks about as out of place as water in this parched land. He bumbles through his introductions and back-story. In other words, he does not earn what he gets five minutes later: The whole town is convinced that he’s a gunslinger named Rango, and they immediately make him their next sheriff.
Rango isn’t a good actor. He’s a bad liar. His desire to act is a hollow plot point thrown in to bring on the action sequences, that’s all. In its own defense, the movie seems to realize its weakness and only brings up the fact that Rango is a liar one more time. Still, it’s a lost opportunity, as there is a lot the plot could have done with its…plot.
But someone mentioned action scenes, right? It’s best not to ruin the surprises, but rest-assured that there are plenty of them, and they’re all cleverly thought-out, like Rube Goldberg machines with explosions. Maybe I’ve said too much.
Besides the gun-filled scenes, Gore Verbinski’s direction has a light touch, which lets the jokes fly. Most of the best humor comes from Rango’s ineptitude, and luckily Depp is center stage throughout most of the movie. He fills the character with quick-witted charm, and the other characters can’t keep up. Unfortunately, this means that other characters feel like afterthoughts. Isla Fisher is completely underutilized as a stern lizard named Beans. When Rango puts together a posse of birds, toads and rabbits to catch the water-thieving moles, one has to wonder why Rango chose these animals in particular.
They’re interchangeable creatures, and it’s a real shame, since so much care was put into each character model. Rango’s lizard skin is pebbly. Other creatures look as if they’ve spent their lives covered in mud. Their eyes, in particular, are filled with astounding depth. But with nothing to distinguish one from another, the characters might as well be blocks of pixels. Or better yet, whoopie cushions that Rango can sit on whenever he pleases, because they add little but cheap laughs to the plot. For all the chuckles, there’s nothing beneath the surface.