Friends Dignan (Owen Wilson), Anthony (Luke Wilson), recently released from a brief stay in a sanitarium, and Bob (Robert Musgrave) rob a bookstore in order impress easygoing criminal mastermind Mr. Henry (James Caan) in hopes of becoming a part of his crew. During their brief sojourn out of town evading the authorities, Anthony ends up falling in love with immigrant hotel maid Inez (Lumi Cavazos), their relationship blossoming just as his longtime friendship with Dignan begins to crumble.
I didnít see Wes Andersonís Bottle Rocket until long after its buzz-making 1996 Sundance debut. It just didnít interest me, and not until I was totally blown away by the filmmakerís sensational sophomore 1998 effort Rushmore did I feel the need to backtrack and take this one in.
Since then the movie, while wildly uneven, has proven to be one of my continual go-to picks whenever I want to sit back, relax and let out a few highly amused chuckles. Despite its almost haphazard structure and narrative, this anything goes crime comedy of ineptitude, love and friendship really works for me, the easygoing charm of the principals more than enough to offset the bits and pieces that uncomfortably falter.
If the film proves nothing else, it showcases just how good Anderson can be when he and Owen Wilson work together creatively. Iím not talking as director and actor. While theyíre both fine in that regard (the latter delivering some of his very best performances for the idiosyncratic auteur), it is as writers that they truly sparkle. Their screenplays have a whimsical, devil-may-care originality thatís truly something special, this, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums all possessing that imaginative spark of effervescence making them unique achievements worthy of debate and discussion.
But it is the other Wilson who most impresses me here. If you had asked me which brother would prove to be the bigger movie star after appearing in this I would have bet everything I owned it was going to be Luke. He is absolutely magnetic in this, showing a flair for beautiful understatement thatís absolutely sublime.
Even better than his quips, deadpans and sarcastic reactions, however, is his zestfully subtle love affair with Cavazos. The two have a deliriously intoxicating chemistry that bounces right off the screen, their scenes together having that intoxicating spark of magic all actors dream of yet so few achieve.
A case could be made that the film doesnít really go anywhere, but I actually think thatís part of its charm. There really arenít any resolutions, but in life (as well within friendships) those donít happen near as much as the always seem to occur in the movies. Instead, the journey of Dignan, Anthony and Bob continues on into the infinite, their separations and respites, whether forced upon them or no, only speed bumps in a chaotic friendship strong enough it will probably last forever.
In a way, thatís how I also feel about the movie itself. Like the best of interpersonal relationships, Bottle Rocket is a journey seemingly without an end. It doesnít always make sense, it isnít remotely practical and it doesnít follow the usual template but what it does do goes beyond easy descriptions and simple commentary, the film taking on a capricious life of its own so pleasing and ebullient I get the feeling Iíll keep turning to it for a laugh long into the foreseeable future.
Bottle Rocket is presented in 1080p 1.85:1 Widescreen and it looks great. Criterion certainly knows what theyíre doing because each one of their Blu-ray releases just keeps knocking my socks clean off. Truly outstanding.
The film is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with optional English subtitles.
Thereís a bunch of extras here, most of them outstanding while also reflecting the idiosyncratic tone of the source material. Best of all, theyíre all new, so the chances viewers have caught them on an early DVD release are a perfect zero.
First off is the audio commentary between Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson. The two are recorded in teleconference, and while it takes them a little bit to get going (their memories of making the film are a little bit faded) once they hit their stride this extra quickly turns into one of the great commentary tracks Iíve probably ever heard. Listening to it is almost more enjoyable than the film itself, their affinity and ease with one another so intoxicating I felt like a fly on the wall capturing an intimate conversation between close friends eager reveling in the opportunity to catch up.
Next is the original thirteen-minute short that premiered at Sundance the year prior to the actual feature film. While definitely raw, you can really see how one became the other, this mini-movie a true treat worthy of multiple viewings.
Also included is a fascinating documentary ďThe Making of Bottle Rocket,Ē eleven deleted scenes (most of which are pretty great, yet you can also totally understand why they didnít make the finished cut, granting incredible insight to the sometimes tough decisions filmmakers must ultimately make), nice (if ultimately superfluous) anamorphic screen tests, storyboards, location photos and behind-the-scenes photographs by Laura Wilson and a booklet featuring an essay by executive producer James L. Brooks, an appreciation by Martin Scorsese and original artwork by Ian Dingman.
Finally, there are two additional extras Iím not quite sure how to describe. The first is called ďThe Shafrazi Lectures, no. 1: Bottle RocketĒ and I can only assume itís going to be a continuing extra on forthcoming Criterion releases, the second is Murita Cycles, a 1978 short film by Braverman. The first is going to perplex a lot of people yet at the same time is still completely mesmerizing, while the second was apparently huge inspiration to Anderson and Wilson as they were composing the screenplay. Theyíre both just the kind of extras we have come to expect from Criterion, out of leftfield companion pieces that give unknown insights into the minds of those who craft some of the more unforgettable entertainments that have come to withstand the test of time.
Bottle Rocket is both a total joy and a delightful hint at the greatness Anderson was going to unleash with his very next effort. It was also the signal that a great new American artist was now on the scene, watching it pure bliss no matter if its the first or the fiftieth time youíve slipped it into your Blu-ray player.