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‘Bottle Rocket’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 23, 1996

 


Director:
Wes Anderson
Cast:
Owen Wilson;
Luke Wilson;
Robert Musgrave;
James Caan;
Andrew Wilson
R
language


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"Bottle Rocket," an amiable, low-budget comedy by first-time director Wes Anderson, gets by on quirky charm and slacker chic—but just barely. Written by Anderson and his college friend Owen C. Wilson, the picture traces the genial Generation X-ploits of three clueless chums in search of more meaningful lives.

Like its loopy protagonists, the film is as earnest as it is guileless. It makes pleasant company, but it doesn't really get anywhere. And for these three, there isn't any place to go, given their dim career prospects. Coming of age is hardly worth the bother when reality bites, but hanging out at home no longer suits these twentyish suburbanites.

Dignan (Wilson), a wheel-spinning, buzz-cut blond, comes up with an imperfect alternative—a life of crime—to which his dreamy best friend Anthony (Luke Wilson) readily agrees. Anthony, who has just been released from a mental hospital, helps Dignan recruit the skittish Bob (Robert Musgrave), whose participation is crucial because he has a car and the money to buy a gun.

Though he has the attention span of a gnat, Dignan sees himself as a criminal mastermind. He's been fixated on the idea since working for Mr. Henry (James Caan), a con artist whose landscaping business, Lawn Ranglers, is a front for his illicit operations. Dignan hopes to impress the enigmatic wheeler-dealer with his own feats, thereby winning a place for himself by Mr. Henry's side.

It never occurs to Dignan that he and and his companions make the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight look like a crack team from "Mission: Impossible." Unfocused and sensitive to a fault, the friends' strategy sessions inevitably devolve into something more akin to a therapy group. And after one modest job, they lie low at a nondescript highway motel.

Anthony, a fuzzy-headed romantic, falls desperately in love with lovely, level-headed Inez (Lumi Cavazos of "Like Water for Chocolate"), a Spanish-speaking member of the housekeeping staff. Although Inez returns his affection, she refuses to leave with him, comparing him to the roadside litter blown by passing cars. "It doesn't sound so bad in Spanish," observes the dishwasher (Donny Caicedo) called upon to translate.

Incapable as yet of independent action, Anthony doesn't try to change her mind, but drives off with Dignan. The gang disbands and some of them begin a physical fitness regime, coach Little League and work as parking valets. It's only when the three are reunited that each gets what he kind of, sort of wanted.

This diffuse and whimsical caper is as loath to make its point as its characters are to commit themselves to anything. The film started out as a short video, then grew up some after it found an executive producer in James L. Brooks. "Bottle Rocket" is aptly named for illegal, cheaply made fireworks that tend to fizzle instead of explode.

Bottle Rocket is rated R for language.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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