March 11, 2011

Ten years ago, the first movie review I wrote was of Verbinski’s flop The Mexican, which sent Brad Pitt wandering around in a similar Sergio Leone desert full of Mexican stereotypes. Pitt, I asserted, seemed stuck midway between Tom Cruise’s professionalism and Johnny Depp’s risk-taking.

Two years later, Verbinski and Depp teamed to pull off the oddest billion-dollar ploy in Hollywood history, Pirates of the Caribbean, a theme-park-ride movie starring a buccaneer who channels an effete glam rocker.

When the chameleon is challenged by the ornery locals to disclose his name, he drops “€œLars”€ and borrows “€œRango”€ from a tequila bottle labeled “€œHecho en Durango, Mexico”€ (where The Wild Bunch was made). As in Steve Martin’s ¡Three Amigos!, the ham actor is cajoled by the naïve townspeople into playing the role of real-life sheriff.

OK, another cartoon movie full of pop-culture references sounds as dire as sitting through Shrek 2 again. Yet Rango‘s recycling represents a distinctive sensibility.

Within the first half-hour, I surmised that the director was a Southern California punk rocker in the 1980s. Sure enough, Verbinski grew up in La Jolla playing in punk bands. He sold his guitar to buy his first movie camera, then graduated from UCLA film school in 1987.

Rango‘s abundance of Mexican themes supports this”€”strangely, Mexico is a less vivid presence in SoCal’s pop culture today than a generation ago. East LA’s Los Lobos, the finest group to evolve out of the punk era, contributes Rango‘s title tune.

The young Verbinski was no doubt floored by UCLA alum Alex Cox’s Repo Man, the 1984 LA punk-rock film. This intricate Emilio Estevez cult movie provided Harry Dean Stanton with his long career’s signature line: “€œA repo man’s always intense.”€ (Rango‘s credits reveal that the now-84-year-old Stanton voices the mole patriarch.)

Cox’s long slide began when he turned down directing ¡Three Amigos! to make Straight to Hell, a spoof of spaghetti westerns. Since then, a co-writing credit on Fear and Loathing is Cox’s most prominent accomplishment, besides much conspiracy theorizing. Yet consciously or not, Rango stands as a tribute to Cox’s assertion in Repo Man that on top of everything lays an unsettling but fascinating “€œlattice of coincidence.”€



Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!