Bill Campbell   Cliff
Jennifer Connelly   Jenny
Alan Arkin   Peevy
Timothy Dalton   Neville Sinclair
Paul Sorvino   Eddie Valentine
Terry O'Quinn   Howard Hughes
Ed Lauter   Fitch
James Handy   Wooly

Directed by Joe Johnston. Written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo from the story by Bilson, DeMeo and William Dear (based on the graphic novel by Dave Stevens). 1991. Running time: 108 minutes.

One really shouldn't write reviews of movies a long time after having seen them. Take my original dismissive review of The Rocketeer written more than three years ago when I began this site. By that time it has already been several years since I have first seen this 1991 movie. I recently rewatched it again after having stumbled across a very cheap (about the price of a rental!) second hand copy of the movie on video, which I bought for my younger brother. He enjoyed the movie more than I had and after rewatching The Rocketeer I decided that I had been very unfair suggesting that the only interesting thing about it was star Jennifer Connelly's cleavage.

Connelly, who starred in Labyrinth and Dark City, was correctly described as "pneumatic" by film critic Roger Ebert and must surely be one of the most distracting actresses working in Hollywood today (another one is Jennifer Love Hewitt in I Know What You Did Last Summer). Casting her in a movie will definitely divert the attention of any heterosexual male from any other aspects of the movie (which helped the Mulholland Falls). However there's more to The Rocketeer than just Connelly's, erm, presence.

The Rocketeer was basically one of several attempts to cash in on the huge financial success of the first Batman (1989) movie. Several 1930s/1940s-style comic book heroes such as The Shadow, Dick Tracey and The Phantom were dusted off and made into movies, none of them really very successful at the box office. Filmmakers probably underestimated the pop culture iconic status of Batman. For example, The Rocketeer although set a year before World War II broke out in Europe, is actually based on a comic book series first published shortly before the movie was made.

The blurb on the video I bought declared The Rocketeer as "Top Gun meets Raiders of the Lost Ark". The Raiders allusion is correct, but since the movie doesn't feature any unintentional homoeroticism or misguided jingoism a better analogy would be Batman or Superman. Said Rocketeer of the title is a stunt pilot who accidentally comes across that staple of early 20th century sci-fi: the jetpack. With a rocket strapped to his back and a full faced helmet that makes him look like a hood ornament (as one character in the movie points out), he becomes a superhero of sorts who has to foil a plan by Nazi's and gangsters to steal said rocket. Sheer Indiana Jones stuff . . .

The Rocketeer is actually a perfect Sunday afternoon rental for the entire family. It's cleverer than one might expect, filled with in-jokes such as a model of eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes' "Spruce Goose" airplane flying in one scene causing him to exclaim "it can fly" (it never did - well, sort of; see the comment at the bottom of this review) and so forth. 

There's a wide-eyed innocence to onscreen proceedings one seldom sees in movies nowadays. While The Rocketeer is something Steven Spielberg might have done in his sleep (the movie is directed by Joe Johnston of Honey I Shrunk the Kids fame) it is still worth renting to beat the long dark teatime of the soul . . .

Note: A site visitor sent me the following e-mail: "In your review you state that the Spruce Goose never flown. This is incorrect. The Spruce Goose was flown one time for a very short distance, but it was far enough to satisfy the original intent of its construction. It was built to show that an aircraft could be constructed totally from wood and still be airworthy. The plane could not withstand repeated flights however and was mothballed by Hughes."


Copyright © June 2000  James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page




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