Review: Bottle Rocket
Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson play Texas buddies Anthony and Dignan. Anthony is the more quiet of the two, and has just been released from a sanitarium after a nervous breakdown. Dignan, the more talkative of the two is an eternal optimist, but high-strung and controlling. Dignan has come up with ‘a seventy-five year plan for happiness’ which somehow involves a serious of get-rich-quick crimes. As wannabe-robbers, though, they also need a getaway driver, so mutual acquaintance Bob (Robert Musgrave) is also brought in on the whole thing. He’s the only guy they know with a set of wheels. After (surprisingly, given their intelligence levels) successfully robbing a bookstore, the trio decide to hide out in a crappy motel out in the middle of nowhere, where Anthony becomes smitten with a Paraguayan maid named Inez (Lumi Cavazos) who barely understands a word or two of English. It’s here that Anthony starts to wonder if it’s worth it to continue with Dignan’s plan, much to the latter’s annoyance. James Caan turns up as Mr. Henry, a small-time crime boss, one of Dignan’s personal heroes. Andrew Wilson (the eldest of the Wilson brothers) plays Bob’s intense, a-hole brother.
The kind of indie flick you know is probably someone’s favourite film of all-time, this 1996 box-office flop from debut director Wes Anderson (“Rushmore”, “The Royal Tenenbaums”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and his co-writer Owen (C.) Wilson is also the only Anderson film to date that I’ve liked. Oh, I’m still not one of the cult here, but it’s good enough to get a recommendation. Just. For an Anderson movie it’s a lot less arty-looking and arch than usual, which can only be a positive for me. I’m usually on the opposite wavelength to his affected style, whereas here the humour was more to my palate. I’m not sure if this is a black comedy, so much as a crime/thriller with a sense of humour, but the humour is definitely there and pretty warped.
It feels more like a Wilson brothers film (Owen, Luke, and Andrew all acting in the film), with the central duo played by Owen and Luke Wilson being a bit dumbski. More than a little dumbski, actually, and that helps you kinda sympathise with not especially admirable characters. Neither of these guys seems the full quid (Dignan is probably a lot more unbalanced than Anthony), and yet they seem kinda affable for slightly unbalanced would-be thieves. I rarely get drawn in by characters in a Wes Anderson film, so I feel it’s more to the credit of co-writer/co-star Owen C. Wilson (who makes his film debut here, along with his brother Luke).
What holds me back just a tad from really embracing the film is that it’s all just a little too laidback and meandering. An expansion of a short film Anderson made (which apparently impressed screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, film industry veteran Polly Platt, and producer James L. Brooks), it wanders too much in the middle, though Lumi Cavazos is really something. She doesn’t speak much English in this, but she says a helluva lot with just her face. Owen Wilson for me is at his best as an actor when he steps outside of his usual persona and goes a little dark. He was terrific in the sleeper “The Minus Man”, and here the normally super-laidback actor is super-intense. That leaves brother Luke (sporting a Gavin Rossdale haircut to Owen’s more army haircut-style here) to be the laidback one, and they prove to be a good match, though Owen obviously has the showier and more memorable role.
An easy watch and well-acted, but very minor and it loses its way slightly in the middle as Luke Wilson gets all mushy. Look out for James Caan’s ponytail though, it’s the most inexplicable thing I’ve seen. That’s gotta be a clip-on, right? Like I said, this is probably someone’s favourite movie. Maybe a sizeable cult of people, and I kinda liked it too.