Saturday, August 23, 2014

Movie Review: The Rocketeer

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action and fun story with a great period feel
Cons: Lothar’s killing is a bit too brutal for the rest of the film.
The Bottom Line:
A flight to the past
In a fight against Nazis
Make period fun

"How Do I Look?"  "Like a Hood Ornament."

I know I’ve seen The Rocketeer at least a couple of times, but it’s probably been at least a decade since I watched it (if not much longer).  After picking up Hallmark’s ornament based on the movie this year, I got really curious to see it again, so I borrowed the movie from the library.  I’m glad I did because I enjoyed it.

The story is set in 1930’s Hollywood and revolves around Cliff (Bill Campbell).  He’s a pilot whose dreams of competing in an upcoming flying competition are shot down, literally, when he accidentally flies his plane over a car chase.  What he doesn’t know is that the car chase involves a self-contained jet pack designed by Howard Hughes (Terry O'Quinn).

When the chase comes to his hanger, Cliff finds himself in possession of the jet pack.  Instead of turning it over to the authorities or finding the owner, Cliff and his friend Peevy (Alan Arkin) make a few modifications to it, and Cliff puts it to use.  What he doesn’t know is that the Nazi’s, lead by film leading man Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) will stop at nothing to get their hands on this rocket.  And Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) just happens to be working on his latest movie….

In many ways, this is a typical superhero origin story.  We meet Cliff and his friends and see how he acquires his powers, in this case the rocket pack.  However, it doesn’t feel like one – possibly because the villain is not developed in quite the same way the villains in today’s movies are.  First of all, he’s human.  Secondly, we spend just enough time with him to know his motivation and plans, but that’s it.  Instead, the movie focuses on Cliff.

And this movie is fun.  With that 1930’s feel, it actually captures a bit of what life was like for the well connected in Hollywood of the era.  The production did a perfect job of making you feel like you were back in that era between the sets and props and costumes.  Plus there are so many perfect little moments where I couldn’t help but smile.

Of course, I do have to point out the one thing that still turns me off - Lothar, who is a big brute who looks remarkably like Frankenstein's monster (although no one else makes the connection).  He’s downright scary, and he kills a couple of people rather brutally.  I’m not saying it’s anything bloody or graphic, but what we do see still turned my stomach a little. (And yes, I know I’m the guy who reads all those murder mysteries.)  I think more than anything it’s that these deaths seem out of character with the fun that is the rest of the film.

On the other hand, I loved Jenny.  While yes, she does provide plot complications for Cliff and she ultimately does need saving, she’s not a typical damsel in distress and does her best to fight back, even helping Cliff at one point.  Plus, she gets my favorite line in the movie (no, not the one used in the title).

The acting is wonderful.  It’s obvious the cast is having fun making this film and it comes through in the performances.  It may not be award worthy, but it fits the film.

Sadly, the special effects don’t hold up as well today.  You can tell that the flying scenes, especially the ones outside, are fake.  But what do you expect for a movie that first came out in 1991?  Considering the time period, it actually looks pretty good.

The box office wasn’t great for The Rocketeer, and it’s fallen into cult classic status.  If you are one of those who hasn’t seen it yet, I recommend you find a copy and fix that today.

This review is part of the 2014 Funny Pages Write-Off.


  1. I LOVE this movie! Loved it when it first came out. Loved it again a few years ago when I showed it to my husband. (He loved it also.) I'm sure I'll love it again when we show it to our kids. Great, entertaining movie!

    1. It's kind of hard to picture why this wasn't more successful, especially given all the superhero movies that are coming out these days.