A twist of fate strands a chameleon in the desert.
Spurs not quite jingling, the lizard without a name saunters into the dusty town of Dirt. A day in the desert has made him thirsty. Everyone in town is thirsty, too. Dastardly doings have caused the water supply to disappear.
In real life the lizard is a pet with no real identity. Before an accident that set him free, he was bored to tears and living in a gold fish bowl with a toy fish and a headless, naked doll.
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The lizard entertained himself by acting. After accidentally getting the best of a couple of bad guys, the lizard decides to call himself Rango, pretends to be more dangerous than he is, gets appointed sheriff and delves into the mystery.
Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) and writer John Logan (The Aviator) borrow heavily from Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, 1950s flicks like High Noon and wade through the best bits of the classics Chinatown and Star Wars. The humor is dry, dusty and packed with animated caricatures of legendary movie characters.
Johnny Depp gives voice to Rango. He anchors an exceptional screenplay that gives the actors lots of room to play. Depp is joined by Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin and a terrific collection of great character actors: Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton and Ray Winstone.
The best of the bunch is Timothy Olyphant (recently of I Am Number Four) who steals the show with two-minute cameo and a dead-on impression of Eastwood’s man with no name.
An on-purpose, watered-down third act moves — if you’ll pardon the metaphor mix — slow as mud and will have you wanting Verbinski and posse to saddle up and get going.
It is the only flaw in a very funny spoof and — so far — the best western and best animated feature of the year.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars
Rated PG for some mature themes. It opens Friday, March 4 at the Carmike 12 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.