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Bottle Rocket

Starring Luke Wilson, Owen C. Wilson,
Robert Musgrave and James Caan
Written by Owen C. Wilson and Wes Anderson
Directed by Wes Anderson

Bottle Rocket. To paraphrase the Bard: "Ah, to be a pothead, now that I'm thirtysomething." Because if I was, you'd see my name in the newspapers under a big pullquote saying something like, "You'll be rolling in the aisles!!!!!" But I'm not, so you won't.

Bottle Rocket is an appropriate title for this sometimes cleverly written piece of fluff. In real life, a bottle rocket is a fairly dangerous piece of fireworks. You light it off and it just goes. No control, just out and away in the direction you point it. Then it flares out and you do it again.

First time screenwriter. First time director. First time actors, except for James Caan, whose appearance towards the end is a welcome diversion. Or maybe that was the ponytail he wears. Anyway...

Bottle Rocket is the story of three friends. Luke Wilson plays Anthony (I'll call him "Nice Guy") who, when we meet him, is being released from a mental institution to which he was committed for "for exhaustion." Luke's real-life brother Owen Wilson plays Dignan, who wants to be a thief. The third member of our jolly little band is Bob (played by Robert Musgrave). Bob is a very rich kid who exists so that his older brother can beat him up while his parents tour the world -- which they do constantly. These guys could only be childhood friends, because nothing else is present to explain the relationship. Nor is it explained why the most normal of the trio was in the nuthouse, when it is obvious that his friend (the would-be thief) is totally over the line.

These characters are the true definitions of the Generation X stereotype. No jobs. No plans (well, except for Dignan). No family connections. Nothing to write home about, if indeed they felt like writing home.

Dignan has a detailed 75-year plan as to how he, and his crew, are going to become the best thieves that ever were. This requires constant observation of the "victim," copious notes, and practice. And a gentlemen's agreement as to what NOT to take when you vault the fence, open the door and rip off your own house.

Oops. Well, it was a TEST run, OK? Just a silly little clever amusement that will come up in different ways three or four more times as the movie plays out. And that's about it. For they take on their first big score, wearing those silly-looking breathing strips that athletes wear as disguises.

Really, they do.

As for their villainous skills, inept doesn't even begin to characterize these Generation X thieves. They steal, yeah, well once, and go on the lam. Just like in the textbooks.

And then, in a repeat of the opening gag, the rich boy rips off his partners. Well, he takes his car and goes home, but that's about the level of humor in this thing. While stranded in a motel, our lead boy discovers what almost any guy who grew up in the 70s wanted for his very own. Marcia Brady.

Seriously. In this case, she is a housekeeper named Inez (Lumi Cavasos, last seen in Like Water for Chocolate). She has dark hair (not blond) and doesn't speak a word of English, because she's from Paraguay. But love is love, and being what it is, the boys go their separate ways.

Which is where Caan (playing the best of the best of thieves, by the name of Mr. Henry) comes in. Caan is a gardener. "It's a front," says Thief. It's a relief, says Cranky. Not much, but enough. Under Mr. Henry's "guidance," wearing day-glo yellow Devo jumpsuits, our crew pulls off their biggest score.

So much for Bottle Rocket, which misfires all over the place. It has trouble deciding which of the two leading men is actually the lead story. Nice Guy leads most of the dance, but things flip just past center and Thief takes you home.

The script, by Owen Wilson and director Anderson, does have some very clever and amusing elements to it. But there is too much left to the imagination -- why was Anthony institutionalized? He's the most normal of the three buds in the thing! If they don't have jobs and don't live with their parents, where's the neighborhood cardboard box for them to crash in? Does it matter that there is no character development? Not really. The story is about what happens when you lie back and let other things happen. It's about reaction (on Anthony's part -- Dignan motivates everything with his incredible thieving schemes) and for the most part, not very interesting.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Bottle Rocket, he would have paid . . .


IMPORTANT: Cranky does not mean to imply that the rating would be all that much higher if you see this thing ripped out of your skull. The dead spots between the clever jokes would drive you up the wall.

Click to buy films starring James Caan
Click to buy films starring Luke Wilson
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