Bottle Rocket (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Bottle Rocket starts and finishes strong, but, somewhere in the middle, it loses its focus and its way. Concentrating on a trio of incredibly inept criminals, there are times when this film seems like Reservoir Dogs as directed by Kevin Smith (Clerks). Unfortunately, while the two bookending capers are hip and funny, the rest of the film is a mixture of elements that clash as often as they mesh. The love story is cute, but the typical male bonding scenes come across as flat, unconvincing, and, worst of all, boring.

Three friends -- Anthony (Luke Wilson), Dignan (Owen C. Wilson), and Bob (Robert Musgrave) - have decided to go into the crime business. Initially, it's just Anthony and Dignan, but since they need a getaway car, and Bob's the one with wheels, they invite him to join. Their first big target is a bookstore. Following Dignan's plan, they enter the shop after-hours, get the manager to show them where the cash is, and make off with a few hundred dollars. Then, fearing that there's a statewide manhunt for them, they decide to lie low in a seedy motel. While there, Anthony falls in love with Inez (Lumi Cavazos, from Like Water for Chocolate), a pretty Paraguayan maid who understands only about a dozen words of English.

The first half-hour of Bottle Rocket is a masterpiece of offbeat comedy. The three main characters make a bizarre team. Dignan, with his "seventy-five year plan" for happiness, is as high-strung and anal retentive as they come. Bob is a spoiled rich kid who raises Marijuana in his backyard and lets his brother beat him up on a regular basis. Anthony, fresh out of a mental hospital, is probably the best adjusted of the trio, and often ends up acting as peacemaker between Dignan and Bob. Together, they successfully pull off a crime that stands as a monument of ineptitude. These three are so bad at what they do that not even their victims take them seriously.

There's another caper, and it's just as laughably-executed as the first, but it doesn't occur until the final twenty minutes. That leaves half of Bottle Rocket for character building -- not the film's strong suit. Anthony is the best-rounded of the friends, primarily because of his tryst with Inez. The other two aren't all that interesting. They work fine as caricatures to ignite certain comic sequences, but, otherwise, they're bland. Inez is more compelling than either Bob or Dignan, and she has less than half their screen time.

All the "fresh faces" in Bottle Rocket give able performances. Luke Wilson essays a sympathetic Anthony, while his real-life brother brings unrestrained energy to the always-on-edge Dignan. Cavazos is appealing in her supporting role as the shy maid who captures Anthony's affection, and James Caan has an over-the-top, cigar-chomping cameo as a supposed crime boss.

After an entertaining beginning, Bottle Rocket appears headed for oblivion until a strong finale resuscitates it. Still, the overall impression is of a clever-but-erratic motion picture. When Bottle Rocket is trying to be funny, it generally succeeds. When it's trying to be romantic, the results are mixed. When it's trying to be dramatic, it makes us wish we were at another movie. The film has an undeniable attraction, and it's one of those quirky slacker/Generation X flicks with a built-in audience, but this is far from a complete package. Wes Anderson and Owen C. Wilson show promise here; now, it's up to them to up the ante with their next feature.

Bottle Rocket (United States, 1996)

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Luke Wilson, Owen C. Wilson, Robert Musgrave, Lumi Cavazos, James Caan
Screenplay: Wes Anderson and Owen C. Wilson
Cinematography: Robert Yeoman
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1