Something told me there'd be a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas shout-out in Rango. Something about Johnny Depp's lizard incarnation, maybe the bugged out eyes and the Hawaiian shirt or the terse cadence of his line delivery, just gave off a Hunter S. Thompson vibe. Sure enough, an early sequence that finds Rango (the titular lizard of Gore Verbinski's bizarre, unique, new CG-animated Western) bouncing off car after car as they careen down a Nevada highway ends with him landing on the windshield of a decidedly familiar red convertible piloted by a bald, visor-capped Dr. Gonzo and his trusty attorney.
It's one of many inter-film references in Rango, a movie as tailored towards adults of the film geek variety at least as much as Raisinette-munching kids; of whom there were many. I sat in the last row specialty seat just so I wouldn't be surrounded. The only people with less theater etiquette than kids are 95 percent of the rest of people.
Rango (Johnny Depp) is a pet lizard moving to a new home with his human captors when a bump in the road sends his cage crashing to the scorching desert pavement. The bump, a near bisected aardvark named Roadkill (Alfred Molina) tells Rango of a town in the West where he can find water and so Rango sets out across the merciless desert. Managing through sheer luck to survive he meets Beans (Isla Fisher) a rancher's daughter with a paralytic complex, who brings him to the dusty burg of Dirt.
Dirt's economy runs on water, it's the actual currency of the town, but the supply has been drying up and the citizenry --anthropomorphized Old West stereotypes -- is growing restless. Rango, who fancied himself an actor in his old life, decides to play the steely Man With No Name, impressing the saloon denizens with his tales of adventure and peril. Rango quickly draws the ire of an outlaw Gila Monster, Bad Bill (unmistakably voiced by Ray Winstone) who challenges Rango to a duel. Just in the nick of time a hawk with a grudge against Rango attacks and the unlikely lizard defeats the beast. The mayor of Dirt, Tortoise John (Ned Beatty represent), impressed with Rango's obvious wealth of sheer luck, appoints him Sherriff while the townsfolk, impressed with his perceived badassery, embrace him with overly expectant arms.
But there's a mystery in Dirt. The once plentiful water is disappearing -- the Mayor seems to be in no short supply, though -- and Rango begins to sense something is amiss after a trio of moles led by Balthazar (Harry Dean Stanton) rob the water bank and the subsequent posse finds the bank manager drowned in the desert. Convinced that the mayor has something to do with the water shortage Rango and Beans, who is being pressured by the mayor to sell her land, go on a hunt to prove the innocence of the moles and uncover the reason for the town's drought.
There's a hell of a lot to like here, not the least of which being Rango's unique look. The animation, rendered by the venerable FX house Industrial Light and Magic, is often times photo real, while the complex character designs are richly textured and incredibly detailed -- a nice change from the overly homogenized designs in much mainstream CG fare. The level of detail in the characters and the art design is painstaking. Additionally, the CG cinematography consultation of lens master Roger Deakins gives the film a look as lovely as anything he's shot with the Coen Brothers.
Rango Tango. There’s a hell of a lot to like here, not the least of which being Rango’s unique
look. The animation, rendered by the venerable FX house Industrial Light and Magic, is often
times photo real, while the complex character designs are richly textured and incredibly detailed.
The story by director Gore Verbinski and John Logan (The Aviator) is an odd duck, a dark
kids film with tons of genre references and a body count, which is at times unevenly paced and
ultimately a little too long, though never boring.
The story by director Verbinski and John Logan (The Aviator) is an odd duck, a dark kids film with tons of genre references and a body count, that is at times unevenly paced and ultimately a little too long (though never boring), despite being rich in a few stellar action sequences. But those criticisms don't hurt terribly as the film's imaginatively surreal take on the Western genre, and its many hat tips to its well-known conventions, provide a lot of substance for those looking for something more than funny talking animals tossing fart jokes and making cute faces. With themes of corporate fascism (or robber barons, if you will), trippy animation and sometimes-countercultural comedy, it's like a Western for stoners. Rango S. Thompson eventually even finds himself in Bat Country.
The voice cast is superb, imbuing the characters with just the right amount of animated emphasis while maintaining a subdued comic timing (at the end of the day Rango is a pretty funny film that rarely goes broad or cutesy), while it's tone of Western love letter by way of movie nerd is wrapped nicely in Hans Zimmer's film-geek-centric score.
Funny and smart, if a little belabored; Rango is a near great re-working of the Western, executed with knowing reverence and free-spirited invention.
Take Me Home Tonight
Sometimes people will ask me how I pick what to review. "They let us pick what we want", I say to which the response is invariably something like, "Cool. That's pretty awesome that they let you do that." And that is true. But the real question is probably why I pick one film over another. There are a ton of reasons ranging from "It's the new fucking Aronofsky, dude, my ass is already in a seat" to "My other option is the Bieber movie, so whatever isn't that." On a really bad week, I'll just pick the shortest ones.
This week saw the release of The Adjustment Bureau and Take Me Home Tonight. Neither trailer really fueled a deep desire to see them (by contrast, the trailer for next week's Battle: Los Angeles is boner inducing). The Adjustment Bureau looked ... dull while Take Me Home Tonight looked to be slick, overly on-point '80s nostalgia looking for Gen X money. But hey, Topher Grace generally has a good eye for material and he isn't over-saturated. I've seen Matt Damon running from bad guys with a beautiful woman enough already. Sometimes the distinction is just that trite.
Apparently, I should have seen The Adjustment Bureau.
In the can in 2007, and concocted by Grace with the writers of That 70s Show shortly after the end of its eight-season run, Take Me Home Tonight is an obvious vehicle for Grace to transition to the big screen that arrives long after his turn as Eddie Brock in Spiderman 3, which did more for that transition than this tepid comedy ever will.
Grace plays Matt Franklin, an über-smart MIT grad who has moved back to his parents' home in L.A. and jockey's a Suncoast Video store in the mall as opposed to getting a high-paying, soul crushing engineering gig. Matt has been obsessed with his high-school crush, Tory Fredreking (once and current real-life flame, Teresa Palmer), a gorgeous, rich-girl whom he never kissed after session of Seven Minutes in Heaven. When he spots Tory coming into his store, Matt pretends to be a customer and meets her, leaving the impression that he works for Goldman Sachs. Turns out Tory will be at a Labor Day bash being held by Matt's sister, Wendy's (Anna Farris) boyfriend, Chris (Kyle Masterson, no doubt kin to Danny; Hyde from That 70s Show) a dumb-as-dirt jock who is just sweet enough to Wendy for Matt ignore how much of a tool his would-be brother-in-law is.
Intent on following through with his ruse, Matt and his best friend Barry (Dan Fogler) liberate a Mercedes from Barry's former employer -- which contains an ounce of fine cocaine -- and make the party in style. Matt sets about ineffectually wooing Cory in the face of her hunky ex-boyfriend from high school while Barry, an odd mash-up of Paul Giamatti and Booger from Revenge of the Nerds, takes the bag of blow and goes on a quest for indiscriminate, coke-fueled sex. They get in adventures.
Take Away. Take Me Home Tonight is an overly telegraphed stab at that ’80s “wild night” party comedy
that leaves you wanting to watch actual ’80s party comedies to see how it’s done. It’s a total nostalgia grab
so by-the-numbers that, in contrast, it makes even recent efforts at retro-’80s comedy like Hot Tub Time
Machine seem far more inspired.
And that's it. Take Me Home Tonight is an overly telegraphed stab at that '80s "wild night" party comedy that leaves you wanting to watch actual '80s party comedies to see how it's done. It's a total nostalgia grab so by-the-numbers that, in contrast, it makes even recent efforts at retro-'80s comedy like Hot Tub Time Machine seem far more inspired (that flick grows on me thanks to cable).
Hot Tub is a good bar, really. They're going after the same audience, but Hot Tub's high-concept stupidity is a kind of smart turn on the inherently raunchy sentimentality of 80's party flicks from Bachelor Party to Hot Dog: The Movie, albeit with a silly sci-fi conceit. Take Me Home Tonight mimics many of those tropes but does so with no verve or imagination. It's a pastiche that relies on nostalgia to fill in for characterization and re-invention of genre staples. Some period clothes and a soundtrack loaded with enough 80s tunes for a K-Tel record aren't enough to make a movie particularly interesting or funny, even if it is warm-hearted. The latitude of an R-rating is meaningless if no one is trying to push it or build on the conventions that made raunchy teen (ish) comedies of that era what they were.
Director Michael Dowse is adept at making an over long film feel not so torturous, considering how flat the comedy beats are, but it's the script by Jackie and Jeff Filgo that feels deflated. The only thing that doesn't make Take Me Home Tonight a total chore is the performances from Grace and Palmer and Farris. The relationship between Matt and his sister was sweet and genuine, while Grace's chemistry with Palmer was obvious enough to get them together for real. They are charming and generally strong comedic actors who work overtime to keep the audience involved in what is, more or less, a boring, if amiable, film.
I tend to write these reviews on Sunday, after the box office tally hits. Take Me Home Tonight didn't even crack the Top 10. Good move, people. You're better at picking these things than I am -- sometimes.
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