Reviews For The Easily Distracted:

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Title: Rango

You Chose A Movie About Johnny Depp As A Chameleon Over The Adjustment Bureau And Cedar Rapids? I did. I felt any potential deficits in narrative complexity would be easily counterbalanced by the film's philosophical underpinnings.

Really? Fine, it was the screening closest to my house.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half Jake Gittes from Chinatown out of five.

Tagline: "There's a new sheriff in town."

Better Tagline: "See how many references to other Depp movies we can spot."

Brief Plot Synopsis: Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski teams up with Capt. Jack Sparrow again in this tale about a chameleon with an identity crisis who is ripped from his comfortable modern existence and becomes the sheriff of an Old West town.

How Does He Go From Modern Time To The Old West? All will become clear in time, grasshopper.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The chameleon eventually referred to as "Rango" has no name at the movie's outset. He's a cipher, a blank slate searching desperately for a connection with the cast-off toys thrown into his terrarium by his unseen owners. It isn't until he's accidentally(?) removed from his safe environment and set on a quest by a not-quite-dead armadillo that he's able to assume a new identity, that of the sheriff of the town of Dirt, which -- in addition to being an anachronistically frontier-type settlement -- is facing a mysterious water shortage.

That Doesn't Sound Like Much Of A Kids' Movie: It will appeal to the younger set, thanks to the goofy-looking townspeople and the odd burp/fart joke, but I think adults will probably get more out of it.

"Critical" Analysis: Rango's marketing threw me off a bit, loaded as it was with flaming belches and an emphasis on the Edward Gorey-meets-Uncle Wiggily style of animation. Going in, I was expecting much more standard children's fare, not an existential undertaking with shout-outs to everything from Chinatown to Don Quixote.

I think the first time I wrote, "What the hell am I looking at?" was when Rango (not yet calling himself that), held a conversation with Alfred Molina as a mostly roadkill armadillo (named, of all things, "Roadkill") bearing a striking resemblance to the Man of La Mancha. He sets the chameleon (clad in a red Hawaiian shirt to preserve the illusion of non-nakedness, see also Porky Pig, Donald Duck) on his quest, which leads him to the town of Dirt.

Taking the frequently vacated position of sheriff and christening himself "Rango," our hero finds temporary happiness, befriending several of the townspeople -- Beans (Isla Fisher), the spunky iguana lass trying to save her farm, Doc (Stephen Root), the squirrel banker, and Priscilla (Abigail Breslin), a cynical young mouse -- and vowing to solve the city's water problem.

Plot wise, nothing surprises. The character you think is behind everything...is in fact behind everything. And the action scenes are reliably predictable (predictably reliable?). Kids will be easily entertained.

But two aspects of Rango make it a much more attractive movie for an adult crowd. The first is the animation, which is as fantastic as any I've seen in a good ten years. Everything from the desert to the characters to a climactic sunset is rendered in vivid detail. The movie looks stunning.

Seeing a warning for "adult themes" in a Nickelodeon movie might cause you to tilt your head quizzically to the side, especially if you're a German shepherd, but Rango is quite dark in places. Characters die, references to Rango's own impending demise are frequently made, and disturbing imagery abounds. Never mind that the townspeople, for all their amusing idiosyncrasies, are pretty grotesque. Priscilla may be a precocious child, but she's also a rodent, and not drawn in an especially cute way.

And those looking to play "Pick Out the Influence" will have their hands full: Polanski, Leone, Castaneda, HST (the Fear and Loathing cameo was a nice touch)...if Rango feels fairly cut-and-dried in the story department, the film's look and Easter eggs make it more than worth a look. Between this and the surprisingly un-bad Gnomeo and Juliet, we already have two contenders for 2011's best animated movie, with nary a Pixar or Dreamworks to be seen.

Rango is in theaters today. And you don't even have to bring a kid with you.

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