'Bottle Rocket': THR's 1996 Review

Bottle Rocket - H - 2017
A marvelous debut film for its director, writer and lead actors.

On Feb. 21, 1996, Wes Anderson's R-rated feature debut Bottle Rocket, starring Owen and Luke Wilson, hit theaters. The Hollywood Reporter's original review of the crime caper is below: 

A marvelous debut film for its director, writer and lead actors, Bottle Rocket is propelled by a fresh approach to the caper genre, with a trio of youthful Texan misfits thoroughly botching their half-baked "adventures," with the goal of someday graduating to more ambitious levels of criminality. 

A slyly entertaining comedy with no established marquee names except James Caan in a limited supporting role, the non-violent and only sweetly romantic Sony Pictures release will suffer because of an R rating earned for a few lines of rough language. A successful video campaign, however, should make everyone involved look like heroes. 

Conceived by director Wes Anderson and actor Owen C. Wilson, who co-wrote the screenplay, the project began as a 13-minute short film that played at festivals in 1993 and 1994. The gung-ho filmmakers were ushered into the limelight with the help of producers L.M. Kit Carson and Barbara Boyle. Then Polly Platt and James L. Brooks came into the picture and the resulting small, character-driven feature blossomed into one of the most satisfying offerings of the so-far dreary winter schedule. 

Brothers Owen and Luke Wilson, along with Robert Musgrave, reprise their roles from the original short, playing likable-but-misdirected pals who cheerfully plan a series of robberies more for the fun of pulling them off than with motives to get rich or cause trouble. The wonderful aspect of the storytelling is how their individual strengths and flaws lead to the film's unpredictable twists and turns. 

The hyper would-be leader of the group, Dignan (Owen C. Wilson), has abundant enthusiasm for making plans and thinking on his feet like a commando, but he often has trouble keeping his mates as focused as he thinks he is. At the film's beginning, his best friend Anthony (Luke Wilson) unconventionally exits an Arizona mental hospital, where he successfully recovered from a bout of "exhaustion." 

As they proceed to burglarize the home of Anthony's parents as practice, the dynamics of their friendship and the characters' personalities are established with crisp, engaging dialogue. Anthony is introspective and aware of his own aimlessness, but loyal and not a little envious of Dignan's enthusiastic approach to life. Dignan is so impressed with the persona he has created for himself, he's sometimes perplexed by his own short attention span and lapses in good judgment. 

The third member of the team is sluggish, well-heeled rebel Bob (Musgrave), who has the car and cash needed to realize their nutty plan to rob a book store. After the hilarious lead-in and successful robbery, the trio hit the road and hide out at a motel. There the film takes one of its several surprising turns when Anthony falls in love with a demure maid from Paraguay (Lumi Cavazos of Like Water for Chocolate). She speaks only Spanish but responds to his boyish advances, with their courtship unfolding as they change sheets and clean rooms together. 

Eventually, there is a falling out between the three fugitives, but they reunite back in their hometown and undertake a more elaborate heist with the help of Mr. Henry (Caan), a fun-loving crook who uses his "Lawn Wranglers" gardening business as a front for more lucrative activities. 

The performers look like they're having a lot of fun, but there is a great deal of skill on display. The one-of-a-kind characters come alive and the film is excellently realized by Anderson and cinematographer Robert Yeoman (Drugstore Cowboy), who filmed in and around Dallas. The title refers to cheap, once-popular fireworks that were banned, symbolizing the short-lived but explosive motivations of the characters. — David Hunter, originally published on Feb. 6, 1996.

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