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  Rocketeer Up Up And Away
Year: 1991
Director: Joe Johnston
Stars: Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton, Paul Sorvino, Terry O'Quinn, Ed Lauter, James Handy, Tiny Ron, Robert Miranda, John Lavachielli, Jon Polito, Eddie Jones, William Sanderson, Don Pugsley, Nada Despotovich, Margo Martindale
Genre: Action, Science Fiction, Historical, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) is a stunt pilot who today is trying out a new aeroplane designed by his engineer, "Peevy" Peabody (Alan Arkin). They have high hopes for the craft, and the takeoff goes splendidly with Cliff handling it with aplomb. As he flies over the California countryside, he notices a car chase being staged on the roads below: the F.B.I. are chasing a police car, which is chasing a car driven by a gangster, with another hood sitting in the back firing off machine gun bullets. The gangsters have something the law wants, but as the pursuit goes on it looks as if they'll get away, even as they fire a volley at Cliff's plane, putting him in mortal peril. Cliff crashes, and the gangsters give the F.B.I. the slip for long enough to hide the top secret equipment in an aircraft hangar - when Cliff finds it later, it changes his life...

Basing blockbusters on old serials was a trick that Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark pulled off successfully, but it was not to be for Rocketeer, an expensive flop for Disney who were looking for a live action hit and possible series, placing it on the level of the seventies Doc Savage: Man of Bronze failure. It was based on the Dave Stevens graphic novel, or comic book if you prefer, a shamelessly nostalgic piece that included a plethora of pop culture and historical references, from Bettie Page to King of the Rocket Men, its most obvious influence. Taking this cue, the makers of the film went all out to recreate 1938 Hollywood, with a slickly authentic adherence to the period that is never less than convincing.

Perhaps it was this that made the film look as if it belonged in those days rather than as a spectacular nineties blockbuster like, say Terminator 2: Judgement Day, which opened around the same time, and as far as special effects went, Rocketeer didn't live up to its potential. Unless their lack of conviction was part of the homage as well? Maybe not. That said, the film did gather a cult following over the years for its wide eyed adventure and refreshing innocence in a time of cynicism, and it is well cast. Campbell was an appropriately square-jawed hero, Arkin a solid sidekick, and Jennifer Connelly, playing Cliff's actress girlfriend Jenny, appeared every bit the glamorous thirties star, although fans of the original may have been disappointed she didn't play out the Page role.

Then there's Timothy Dalton as Errol Flynn-alike Neville Sinclair (The number three box office star in America, so he says) who is also after the rocket pack that Cliff finds, along with Paul Sorvino's gangsters and the small matter of Nazi Germany. Dalton is ideal as the charming cad who almost gets Jenny sacked from his movie set until he discovers she is the girlfirend of the Rocketeer, as Cliff has been dubbed in the press. There are many nice moments and touches, such as where Cliff admits to Jenny that he's the mystery hero but she doesn't know what he's talking about having been at work all day, or Lothar (Tiny Ron), the heavy who bears an uncanny resemblance to Rondo Hatton. So yes, the recreation of the time couldn't be better, so why doesn't the film match that with excitement levels? It's that it seems such a time capsule that there's no sense of danger or involvement with the characters, as if they've been lovingly preserved yet not brought to life. Music by James Horner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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