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Tagline: Three years before the United States declares war, Cliff Secord leads America's first battle against the Nazis.

Preshow Entertainment: Jake Johannsen: I Love You

Pizza: Joe Peeps!


For many, many, many, and many years, because of my odd and perhaps unhealthy fascination with airships, friends have been begging me to see THE ROCKETEER (1991), and quite honestly, I don't know why I didn't listen. But THE ROCKETEER is more than a movie that features a way cool scene on a dirigible. A conglomeration of the better parts of Indy's CRUSADE, the BACK TO THE FUTUREs, and even ROGER RABBIT, THE ROCKETEER is a delectable movie that went overlooked by not just me, but by moviegoers everywhere. In other words, don't be like me. When I say see this movie...see this movie.

THE ROCKETEER takes us back to pre-war Los Angeles, and an inventor nicknamed Peevy (Alan Arkin) and his partner/protege/flyer Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell).

It's Los Angeles in 1938, and Cliff and Peevy are testing out a new one-seater plane that they hope will get them to win the Nationals. But the Nationals won't matter, because they're in for an altogether different kind of thrill ride. One that involves Nazis, killers, an underworld boss with the perfect name of Eddie Valentine (surprise surprise, it's Paul Sorvino), and a goon named Lothar (based on Rondo Hatton...how cool is that!).

While testing the plane, Cliff spots a car chase/shootout between a pair of gun-crazy bad guys, a cop car, and a Fed car. Bullets hit the plane, and it crashes and burns on the runway.
At the same time, the bad guys (guy now, actually) pull into Cliff's hangar and exchange the contraption they had stolen with a vacuum cleaner. That means Cliff now owns this odd, futuristic appliance, and the Feds? They have a vacuum cleaner which is burnt beyond recognition when the bad guy drives his car into a gasoline truck. And they're not going to make another one, so says its inventor Howard Hughes (Terry "Stepfather/Locke" O'Quinn). And though plans to remake this rocket-pack, which can make a man fly, are scotched, Cliff and Peevy find themselves in its possession...and needing money after their plane is destroyed. It sure sounds like a lot, and I suppose it is, but it's a great start to a great adventure.

This great adventure also includes Cliff's girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly), an aspiring actress who fancies the heroism and nobility of flying. Jenny soon finds herself in a movie with Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton), an Errol Flynn-y movie star who happens to want the jet-pack for his own organization. Sinclair's latest movie, WINGS OF HONOR, is on a billboard Cliff flew past in the opening crash. Soon, because of circumstances that arise, Jenny leaves Cliff. Meanwhile, Peevy, a Geppetto/Doc Brown mix, is tinkering with the jet-pack. Oh, that jet-pack. It's gonna be nothing but trouble.

THE ROCKETEER was directed by George Lucas protege Joe Johnston, who made JURASSIC PARK III, my favorite of the JP franchise (yeah, you heard me). Maybe that's the reason THE ROCKETEER reminded me of a Spielberg movie, you know, when Spielberg was a great moviemaker back in the '70s and '80s (shit...now he's never going to call me). THE ROCKETEER even lifted the Hollywoodland gag from Spielberg's 1941. It's Johnson's second film after his wowie zowie debut of HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS. He'd go on to make another great rocket movie, OCTOBER SKY (an anagram from "rocket boys") and HIDALGO, making Johnston one of the best overlooked filmmakers today. I haven't seen THE WOLFMAN, so I can't comment on that, nor on next year's CAPTAIN AMERICA.

I liked ROCKETEER's small details, like when Cliff is talking to the child Patsy and he thinks twice about saying "hell" ("You scared the living...heck out of me."), and the way Jenny zips her dress back up in defiance after clocking a spy who thought he was seducing her.
And the bigger details, like when Cliff freefalls from a plane and into a cloud, and the cloud illuminates, letting us know he turned the rocket-pack on, and that dissolve from the mountains at night to linens in a bed is just creative as all hell. And the shot of the Luxembourg dirigible coming over the top of the Griffith Observatory? Breathtaking. Also...that Nazi propaganda film is a work of art.

Sadly, none of the performances stood out for me. Although the character of Cliff seemed a bit phlegmatic (I have a word-a-day calendar), I thought the cast was really good, but this movie is a case where the story outshines the players. Perhaps if some characters were a little more oomph-y (Imagine Indiana Jones as played by, say, Luke Wilson), this fun movie would have gotten more attention (opening the same weekend as TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY probably didn't help). I do have to add that Timothy Dalton's Neville Sinclair is delicious.

THE ROCKETEER looks and feels like a 1930's Hollywood adventure movie (that's the idea). And it really works on that front. I really love the art deco imagery, like the clamshell bandstand in the South Seas Club and the Bull Dog diner, reminiscent of the bygone Tail-Of-The Pup era architecture of old L.A.

James Horner provides a theme that's beautiful in a major key and haunting in a minor key. It starts out really pretty, but ends up pretty overplayed. Even the CD is repetitive.

Based on the late Dave Stevens' 1982 graphic novel of the same name, THE ROCKETEER is actually a Disney movie (with Nazis). Its screenplay is by Paul De Meo and my girlfriend Rachel's dad, Danny Bilson, whose father is the great Bruce Bilson, a name many of us have seen on every single TV show growing up. And like the poster might have promised in this throwback movie - The Rocketeer is Action! Adventure! Suspense! Romance! And it delivers on all, despite the fact that it sank like a lead zeppelin at the box office, taking Disney's planned sequels and toys down with it.

Preshow Entertainment: Jake Johannsen: I Love You

Jake (can I call him Jake, is that okay?) Johannsen has been doing stand-up for years. Decades, perhaps. His act is the unassuming guy who is pretending to make it up as he goes along. This will often get him stuck in quagmires that can come from anything from the English language (like "the N word") to situations (checking out 23 year old girls). Jake's just great at invisible segues. He'll be talking about the economy, then hand sanitizer, and then babies, and you won't even remember how he got there. It's an affable stream of consciousness, and he's really a funny guy. That's Jake.

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