Only one character in Rango is called ‘Roadkill’, but it’s a cap that would fit any of the denizens of Dirt, the desert town that backdrops Gore Verbinski’s way-out western ’toon.
True, kids have a taste for the grotesque – how else to explain the Chuckle Brothers or Justin Bieber? – but you do wonder what nipper nightmares may be spawned by the ugly mugs reeking up the screen here.
Even our hero’s no oil painting: chameleon Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp), a lost pet attempting to blend into Dirt by talking himself up as a seasoned gunslinger.
The freaky phizogs, surreal asides and riffs on Chinatown (minus the incest, but still) can’t disguise an oddly hollow core.
Narratively, Verbinski’s film is all but parched of surprise; emotionally, it’s as cold as the plastic fish Depp’s lizard cradles around with him. The sequence where it looks like it might be all over is striking, sure, but more for its art than its heart.
But Rango does bring the funny (peculiar), whether it’s Depp strutting some self-aggrandising barroom schtick, or the silent comedy of evading a hungry hawk. And there’s always a twist on oater iconography, or a blip of existential randomness to pin your attention.
If Pirates 4 – the first in the series not directed by Verbinski – struck you as blandly businesslike, then these are the stranger tides you’re looking for.
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