Tuesday 31 August 2021

Movie Review: Bottle Rocket (1996)

A dramatic comedy about dim-witted friends fumbling through life, Bottle Rocket is as intentionally aimless as its protagonists.

Anthony Adams (Luke Wilson) leaves a voluntary mental institution, but his friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) insists on making the departure look like an escape. A petty but lovable wannabe criminal with grandiose ideas, Dignan has a 75-year plan for the two of them to succeed in life, starting with a trial theft of Anthony's childhood home. They then team up with their rich friend Bob (Robert Musgrave), because he has a car, to plan another heist.

Dignan is obsessed with impressing his former boss Abe Henry (James Caan), a flamboyant a criminal hiding behind a landscaping business. Anthony, Dignan and Bob rob a bookstore and escape to a motel hideout, where Anthony falls in love with the maid Inez (Lumi Cavazos). The romance persists despite a language barrier, but complicates Dignan's ambitious agenda for further criminal exploits.

The directorial debut of Wes Anderson, who co-wrote the script with Owen Wilson, Bottle Rocket does spend a lot of time moving sideways, waiting for something to happen. But chuckles can always be found within a group of dimwits, and while it's both dangerous and easy to make fun of dullards, the film occasionally sparkles. 

The best moments arrive courtesy of Dignan as the unforgettable prototypical friend who is just a little off. Owen Wilson revels in the role, fully investing in a character familiar with leadership concepts and buzzwords and genuinely trying hard to win friends and influence people, but in all the wrong directions. 

In the middle act, the romance between Anthony and Inez is sweet and believable, the language barrier a sturdy source of amusement. But while the couple are cute thanks to Lumi Cavazos' persistently hopeful attitude as Inez, they do take away from the focus on Dignan as the narrative driving force. The love affair eventually blunts momentum and Anderson starts looping in lazy circles.

The visual style celebrates eccentricity rubbing against bland, featureless landscapes in the middle of nowhere, non-conformance providing the only source of inspiration and excitement. The madcap finale ramps up both the humour and pathos, dreams colliding with limitations to good effect. When Dignan is in full and oblivious flight, this rocket takes a wacky ride.

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