Friday, April 1, 2011

The Rocketeer: A Less-Than-Formal Request for Reconsideration

I’m willing to wager a guess that the video cassette of The Rocketeer that I watched religiously at my Grandmother’s house in the early 90’s was purchased at a heavily discounted price, and was one of forty or so copies available for purchase. Why do I predict such a thing? Because, simply, the film was a flop. At least, a flop when considering the ambitious marketing ventures associated with it. The film (and probably more so the character) was “supposed” to jumpstart a new pop culture revelation where adolescent boys and girls would abandon their whimsies of flying with a red cape, and instead venture through the skies propelled by an industrial jetpack. Unfortunately for the advertising forces behind The Rocketeer, no one considers its title character to be anywhere close to on par with other iconic heroes (natural or supernatural).

I am writing this post from the comforts of a couch, watching The Rocketeer (thanks to the fine folks at SyFy for their visual generosity). And ya know what? I like it.

The movie stars Bill Campbell (second cousin to Bruce Campbell) as Cliff, an aspiring young pilot who finds himself in the awkward circumstance of being in a morally debilitating crash at the onset of the film. Cliff, despondent after his aviation blunder, is comforted by the presence of his main squeeze Jenny (Jennifer Connelly), who he is in the process of courting. Jenny is an aspiring actress trying to ascend from the rank of movie extra into the limelight of the bustling 1930’s Hollywood scene. Along for the ride is Peevy (Alan Arkin), Cliff’s flying mentor and quirky friend/life associate. When Cliff and Peevy find themselves in the possession of a top-secret jetpack, they engage in a playful back-and-forth over what they should do with the thing. Naturally, Cliff’s adventurous and free-spirited quirkiness prevails, and the two test out their new toy. In the end, Cliff plays the role of the rocket man (dubbed The Rocketeer by press writers), and Peevy contributes his intellect to the project by serving as the rocket’s chief mechanic. However, the use of the rocket must be kept somewhat of a secret, because of the numerous men who are after it. One of these men, who the film considers the primary villain, is a swanky British Hollywood leading man named Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton). Cat and mouse games ensue…

I’m not much in the mood of debating whether this movie depreciates filmmaking. It probably does. However, it also provides a cheesy, thrilling ol’ time. And, keeping with the needs of many movie patrons, such a film can deliver something worthwhile. The film really is charming. Charming, primarily, because of the wonderful ways that each of the primary cast members contribute to their roles. Bill Campbell is a good-looking man, with a sense of altruism and compassion that is necessary for the story to work. He stands up for his beliefs, and always appears willing to throw himself into harms way in order to save others. You may easily call this character contrived, but it works. This character works even better when dealing with Peevy, who spends most of the film unsuccessfully slinging cautious advice in Cliff’s direction. Naturally, this cautiousness is ignored for the sake of cheap CGI’d thrills.

The real winners in this cast are Jennifer Connelly and Timothy Dalton. Connelly is absolutely radiant in this role, and managed the remarkable feat of maintaining a high level of class considering the less-than-stellar dialogue her character was given. I have always been a fan of her more intense acting work, but I may have to commend her the most for her work in this movie, where she manages to shine in a way that not many other actresses could. And, for as charming as Connelly is in her role, Dalton is the same in his. His snide and often cunning performance gave the film a more effective villain than it probably deserved. He played his moments of bewilderment as effectively as he did his moments of possessing the upper hand.

The Rocketeer is a flick filled with some of the cheapest thrills you can find in the (super)hero action genre, but embraces them with energy and lighthearted sensibilities. The film’s score is as triumphantly cheesy as you can expect (reminiscent of Hook), and put me in quite the ecstatic mood. The screenplay is nothing to rave about, but manages to offer horribly fantastic one-liners precisely when it gets too bland for its own good.

I know a few people who really enjoy this film, and appear lethargic over the fact that it didn’t “take off” (pun INTENDED!). Me, I’m glad the film was a flop. I’m glad its cheesy, contrived beauty isn’t permanently ingrained in the minds of the majority of moviegoers. I’m glad it has been relegated to the B-movie section of the universal film archive. This way, when I write a positive critique of it, my friends can call me an idiot.

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