REVIEW: 'Bottle Rocket' (1996) Falls Flat To Other Wes Anderson Films

⭐⭐

“A quirky, life in crime offset comedy that fails to capture memento through its dry, rarely pleasing, chain of events.”


As the firework erupts a sound of flaming light, the title reads loudly as its font, Bottle Rocket, beneath a dark red, plain background. Dishing out a sense of anticipation, the sizzling of the explosive fades away into the sweet endeavour of Mark Mothersbaugh’s shimmering maraca-embedded score, as the first shot reveals Anthony (Luke Wilson) swinging open his hospital window to find his friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) lurking in the bushes, binoculars and everything, crying out a sharp-induced caw. While depicted as bizarre for some who haven’t yet witnessed a Wes Anderson film prior to this one, to me, watching this first scene was like hitting a goldmine of compositional goodness. And while still obtaining the same sweet symphony as before, it’s a shame that its mellow endurance that followed Anthony around his room, to the point of when he tied piles of sheets to create a rope of his “escape”, didn’t acquire the same melodious charm throughout the rest of the film.

Released in 1996, Bottle Rocket is Wes Anderson’s first small feature film, made in collaboration with writer-star Owen Wilson, and is ultimately built up on the simmering scheme of pay-offs to friendships and resentments through lifelong relationships. It’s a hyperactive picture that collides short bungled heist moves, toying with guns, and double-edged advice all through a lens that tries not to screw up with its ring of authenticity and goofy grins – but seemingly enough, does just that. Embedded with long speeches and “fact” checks from Dignan, unspecified information and scenes like the Barra bar where Anthony ridicules a man behind his back for speaking to his girlfriend Inez (Lumi Cavazos) – it’s hard to put together what this film aims for, in terms of motives and gratification, and how entertaining the story actually is when the character quirks and large proportional focus on brother’s kicking the crap out of one another takes up a large amount of its run-time from its much-shadowed (hollow) plot.

Underneath its drowsy pace and the scenes that pushed too hard to seem relevant, one could find it a lot more interesting if they understood exactly what it was: if they saw past the flaws and viewed it as a material piece represented by friends showcasing their lives and their freedom to not push too hard. Seemingly enough, Bottle Rocket dedicates itself to freedom and the intention to just let one be free; essentially a piece, after taking time to reflect, that increasingly dives deep into how a life of crime can make-do a person to feel alienated from society. It’s just a bummer when a low-budget indie film that simply wants to mark its fragile charm to those who feel, or have felt, a similar path, aids its way to lanes that don’t correspond with the messages at best. And in a way, I can appreciate Anderson and Wilson for indulging in a personal tale that focuses more on the audience’s state of mind than a cheap-shot account of society; it’s just I can’t recommend it enough to take away the lack of adding up and permissive action it made me feel while watching it. An offset comedy that, despite its small moments of heartbreak and delight, is ultimately a picture that fails to capture the memento within its languid portrayal of two friends, and inevitably falls flat.

Bottle Rocket is no Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore, or Grand Budapest Hotel, but is in fact a somewhat memorable blueprint for the (now well known) Anderson style. While establishing a couple main central elements that are visible in all of his other works, Bottle Rocket doesn’t undertake the same acerbic one liners as Max Fischer, occupy the same distorted yet promising companionship as the Tenenbaums, dance the same asynchronous steps to Le Temps De L’amour as Suzy and Sam, or have the corresponding eccentricity and passion as Jack, Peter and Francis Whitman; but I sure as hell appreciate the film’s meticulous soul-searching element. Even if it was drawn from a petty heist film.