Rango in Rango
Chinatown. It's Chinatown, but without the you know.

I try to start every review with an introduction. Something to let you all know what the general theme of my review is going to be. Sometimes, I talk about OKCupid and their dating data. Sometimes, I talk about the differences between hard and soft science fiction. Sometimes, I talk about how difficult it is to review a movie. Sometimes, I talk about a lot of things that have something to do with the movie at hand. But today, I just don’t know what to say. I’m not speechless in a good way either, but not in a bad way. I’m sitting here and I just saw Rango, the new movie from Gore Verbinski, starring Johnny Depp–neither of whom are men I have very strong feelings for–and I don’t know who it was supposed to appeal to or how or why. It’s not bad for that, it’s just sort of… unfocused. And while later in life, I may gain some patience for that, at the moment it just sort of confuses me. Maybe the problem is me. I know I haven’t seen all of the movies that Rango takes such delight in quoting and referencing. I don’t like westerns. … Those four words alone sorta disqualify this review, don’t they.

No, I don’t like westerns, and while you probably think that also disqualifies my review of True Grit, I’ll just tell you now that a movie should be able to stand on its strengths as a movie despite its genre, not because of it. The Fighter isn’t bad because I hate movies about white, straight, male, able-bodied athletes winning every fight in their life. It’s because I hate movies about those guys that fail to engage me, and The Fighter didn’t give me anyone to care about in Mark Wahlberg. I was invested in Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, certainly. But I couldn’t even recommend the movie after their astounding performances. … That’s off topic. The topic is that I don’t like westerns. Which is what Rango happens to be. But even if I don’t like westerns, I should be able to appreciate a very good western, right? In theory, that’s how it goes. In Rango, I’m sorta … untouched.

Johnny Depp is the titular Rango, although Rango actually doesn’t have the name Rango and is actually faking at being a hero. No, he’s a tank lizard, and he’s used to being a lizard in a tank. Having no name is likely a reference to The Man With No Name as portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the Dollars trilogy. Yes, that is how deep my knowledge of westerns goes, so have fun. He gets dropped out of his car after determining that he needs an ironically cataclysmic event in his play to shake his life up. That bit was kinda funny. On the way, he meets the typical “kid’s western” Cheech Marin cameo–or at least about five people doing excellent Cheech Marin impressions–and runs away from a hawk. More on the hawk later. After passing out in a pipe, he’s rudely awoken by water gushing forth, taking him with it to the ground below where Isla Fisher’s character Beans is standing for what I’m sure is a good reason. I entirely forget that reason, but she has a gun to his head. That’s another thing that’s curious about Rango, but we’ll get to that later.

Rango convinces the townspeople he is actually a hero, instead of a buffoon, named Rango. They then task him with finding out where all the water–which this animals use as currency–went, as now, their pumps run dry. Well, that’s after he beats up a local hooligan and kills a hawk. The same hawk from earlier, in fact. Here’s the thing, and I say this with love: why do we have two sequences with the hawk? Someone tells the Chameleon with No Name to walk in the direction of his shadow, he does, then he falls asleep. That’d be fine! Then he can wake up with the water thing, cos that’ll be important later. Then a hawk shows up in town and he’s scared not because it’s the exact same hawk, but because it’s a hawk. You think he’d have some instinct to be scared of a hawk, right? You know what, it’s time for a time out.

Yo, movie-makers. I’m a fan, here. I love your medium, and I think there are things we can do to improve it, even today in our post-Avatar, post-Up world. And the first thing you need to realize is that editing is not something that begins after you’ve shot every page of the script. You should start cutting the moment you get the script in your hands as a director, producer or star. Edward Norton really has the right idea in re-writing all of his movies when he gets them. As a writer, I’m telling you now that a script filmed will always play like a screenplay in motion and never like a movie. I’m not saying you need defined structure, I’m not saying you need shorter movies. I’m saying you need to know what you’re saying, when you’re saying it and how you’re going to use the characters and scenario of your movie to say it. I don’t want you to start at a theme and write from there. I want you to write, re-read, cut, re-read, cut, get someone else to read it (preferably an interested producer?), get them to edit it–get as many hands on that baby as possible. A good novelist tells you that the art is in the writing; a great novelist tells you that the artistry was the editor, hard at work.

Rango was inoffensively fun throughout–heavier on the inoffensive than the fun. But the action had no purpose. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to think of Rango, Beans or any of the other characters. I don’t know what you meant to do with your kid’s version of Chinatown–but that, right there, is the other problem with Rango. Here you had a great opportunity to make an animated feature film for adults that wasn’t ridiculously violent, obscene or foreign. You had a chance to make a movie for grown-ups that happened to be animated, but you didn’t. And then you had the approach of people trying to make a movie for kids, but you failed at that, too. Was it for teenagers? Who were you talking to?

For all the people out there like me, thinking right now “You don’t write something for an audience, you write it for yourself!” This is true. You are right. You don’t write for an audience. You edit for an audience. TWO STARS

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