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On June 21, 1991, Disney brought Joe Johnston’s The Rocketeer comic book adaptation to the big screen. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
The No-Risketeer might be a more proper title for Buena Vista’s big summer release, The Rocketeer: no big stars, no big-gross participants, no out-of-control budget, no contracts covering the sequels and, most of all, no story risks or bold dashes into the filmic beyond.
The film is just a very safe shot into the skies that undoubtedly will knock down an avalanche of mainstream money and clean up in the outer dimension of video.
The Rocketeer is low-octane Steven Spielberg — projected in the right happy direction but lacking the gritty accelerant and around-the-edges humor and humanity of other heavy popcorn-load adventures.
As seems characteristic with projects with multiple writers (two screenwriters, three story people), Rocketeer‘s story is smoothed-out and slavishly servile to the proven story components.
While Rocketeer lacks zing and zip as narrative, director Joe Johnston makes it soar in its action sequences, especially when the film’s focal component, a goofy little backstrap rocket, blazes across the screen with the crazy turns of a supersonic squirrel. Also charging the enterprise to high dimension is composer James Horner’s torrential, full-horned score.
In this comic-based blast, Bill Campbell stars as Cliff, an average schmo (well, not so average — he races planes) who must rise to the occasion to save the free world. A high-tech, person-propelling rocket has come into Cliff’s possession, and hot on its trail are gangsters, Nazis and a Hollywood star (Timothy Dalton). All the while, he’s having tender trouble with his silken actress girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly).
Unfortunately, Rocketeer‘s chief component, the rocket itself, is wasted throughout much of the script as a MacGuffin, a mere object that everyone chases after. Despite a few action sequences where Cliff straps it on and soars heroic, the rocket itself might as well have been a golden donut, so under-utilized is the winning contraption to stimulate action scenes.
Indeed, much of the narrative thrust is wasted on linking the ponderous ballast of the backstories, while the overall climax is deadened by expository clean-up.
Undeniably, Rocketeer‘s overall trajectory is pleasing and winning, but it lacks the quirky charms and personal idiosyncracies that endeared other big-effects films to tot and sophisticate alike. In the annals of blandness, Rocketeer‘s lead character Cliff wins the white bread prize hands down, so nondescript is Campbell’s lead performance.
With its elegant 1930s sets and skilled special effects, The Rocketeer‘s technical contributors perform in full-thrust throttle: helmets off to production designer Jim Bissell for the scrumptious Busby Berkeley-styled sets and Industrial Light & Magic for its characteristic above-and-beyond pyrotechnics. — Duane Byrge, originally published on June 10, 1991
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