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‘Bottle Rocket’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 23, 1996


Wes Anderson
Owen Wilson;
Luke Wilson;
Robert Musgrave;
James Caan;
Andrew Wilson;
Wes Anderson
mild profanity and sexual situations

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WHAT EXACTLY is "Bottle Rocket" about? Narratively, not that much. But this movie—which could be described broadly as an off-center, twentysomething comedy, but is far more interesting than that—is a hilarious, inventive and goofy breath of fresh air.

First-time filmmakers Wes Anderson (the director and co-writer) and Owen Wilson (co-writer and one of the performers) are pioneers of comic naivete. They're purely interested in the way events can unfold—no matter how strange.

"Bottle Rocket" is about the silly exploits of three shiftless Texans whose lives are at existential loose ends. But the movie's not another slacker generation banality; and it's only nominally about three wacky guys and their hopeless attempts to become professional burglars. Certain "formulaic" things take place, including the dutiful resolution of everyone's inner needs, but there's an open-ended mystery to everything. You never know what's going to happen next.

When the story starts, Anthony (Luke Wilson) is finishing a long voluntary rest in an asylum for "exhaustion." ("You haven't worked a day in your life," his sister retorts later. "How could you be exhausted?")

Dignan (Owen Wilson), who is clearly missing a screw somewhere, is convinced his buddy is being held in some kind of institutional stalag. He gives Anthony a knotted sheet to "escape" with. Then, hiding conspicuously below Anthony's second-story window, he waits for the "getaway," cupping his hand, as if signaling him with a mirror.

Anthony, who bears his friendship to Dignan with a world-weary sense of duty, begs a staffer to let him shimmy down the side of the building—just to humor Dignan's delusion. The staffer hesitates, then agrees reluctantly. "But, you know, can you do it fast?" asks the staffer. "Cause this doesn't look so good."

Dignan, a crew-cut, pseudo-militaristic goofball (if Kramer from "Seinfeld" and Frank Burns of "M*A*S*H" could have a child together, it would be Dignan), has another harebrained scheme. He and Anthony can pursue a life of petty burglary! After they prove themselves, he informs his friend, they can join a real team of professionals he happens to know. Anthony, at a loss for much else to do, agrees. Dignan also persuades their mutual friend Bob (Robert Musgrave), a rich kid with access to money and a car, to be their getaway driver.

The three friends eventually join forces with a small-time gangster called Mr. Henry (James Caan) and his henchmen, who front as a landscaping company called the Lawn Wranglers. It doesn't take long for Dignan and company to discover they have no talent for robbery.

But over the course of their hilariously botched raids, they realize their unfocused yearnings: Anthony falls in love with a Paraguayan motel maid, a veritable princess called Inez (Lumi Cavazos, the star of "Like Water for Chocolate"). Dignan, whose real desire is to be an underworld hero, gets all the heist action he can take. And Bob gets to look impressive in the eyes of his older, bullying brother, Futureman (Andrew Wilson—the last of the three Wilson brothers involved in this project).

Not only is the movie amusing, it's giddily romantic. When Anthony first sets eyes on Inez, she's adjusting her hair by a service cart outside a motel room, he's leaning out of the pool, and there's a swirl of surprisingly affecting music on the soundtrack. She doesn't speak much English and his Spanish is worse, but they get along like a house on fire.

"You have really good posture," Anthony tells her with starry eyes. "You know, you stand up very straight."

Well, this may not be Humphrey Bogart at work. But in "Bottle Rocket," where anything goes, it works like a charm.

BOTTLE ROCKET (R) — Contains mild profanity and sexual situations.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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