the rocketeer film review

The Rocketeer (1991)

⭐⭐½ (2½ stars out of 5) 

The Rocketeer (1991) Directed by Joe Johnston

Naturally affectionate, kind-spirited and unabashedly old-fashioned, yet those are only characteristics that are apparent on the surface of its comic textures and dynamic atmosphere that evoke the simple but entertaining personality of 1930s matinee serials, there is no optimal mechanism to accomplish what it is trying to convey. It is listless in its development, cartoonish but inert, and the character writing is equivocally bland. The construction of the plot meets all the conditions to be a perfect nineties and anachronistic entertainment, but clumsily the narrative gets lost in its own chaos originated from minute one. A beginning that certainly aims to give life only to the dynamics of childish and implausible adventure, which is totally endearing and honestly I was carried away by its winsome magnetism of classic aesthetics; however every functional element is pure appearance, it is only to be splashy and camouflage the flaws that are visible in the deficiency of dramatic coordination of the story.

The Rocketeer manages to establish a diegesis where irrationality dictates the rules, thus forming a nineties blockbuster extravaganza with a lot of inevitable enchantment, and consequently it is very easy to digest its good-natured and hilarious spirit; I have a drawback not with that amiable and handsome splendor, but with the scarcity of emotions that emanate from the airs of this adventure. Each character and situation is presented without much plot to give us identifiable and empathetic points with the characters, who contain a variety of captivating qualities to convince us of their desires and actions, yet the inattentive writing gives them no breathing room, no space to express themselves or to work on those qualities. The plot moves forward on its own without emotional locution, it is as if the first act will automatically start with all the characters already developed, that makes the film lose any trace of narrative momentum, or rather I think I could confirm that this film has no solid strategy to give impetus and corpulence to the narrative.

The successful production design gives a certain weight to the inexpressive storytelling, it is a film where you are not necessarily transported to the 30’s, but it does capture a stylistic essence of those times. The dusty costumes of the pilots, the Hollywood lavishness of the golden era, and above all the satirical atmosphere of that legendary decade for cinema is fascinatingly concentrated here and gives a visual vigor that ends up synthesizing the colorful modernity of 90’s cinema with the glittering charm of 30’s glamour. But no matter how much I value these sophistications of production design, all the hard work is squandered in an emotional vacuum, relying indiscriminately on the beautiful and idealistic soundtrack wonderfully composed by the great James Horner.

In the Hollywood of the 1930s, a secret prototype weapon developed by an inventor is stolen by the Los Angeles mafia who, trying to escape the FBI that seeks to recover the device, hides it in an airfield. This weapon is an individual propellant that turns the user into a real rocket man. An actor named Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) tries to obtain the artifact for the government of Nazi Germany, but in turn the mafia also collaborates with the actor without knowing that he is a traitor. The Nazis are very interested in the device. Fortuitously it will come into the hands of Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell), an acrobatic pilot with very little fortune whom everyone will try to catch, but with the help of a beautiful girl, Jenny (Jennifer Connelly), things will take a different destiny to what everyone wants with the coveted invention.

I flat out adored each of the performances, I believe that part of the enthusiasm and optimistic energy of this film lies in the great mystique of the actors giving their all to achieve indelible entertainment. Unfortunately, the absence of an emotional connection in the framework with the characters is detectable, therefore the dramatic correspondence between characters and plot is equally limited.

Billy Campbell’s Indiana Jones-esque mien and Jennifer Connelly’s voluptuousness make the film one of those clichéd pairings that work at the right moments, yet there are very few of those sparkling moments, and the scarcity of chemistry between the two is embarrassingly obvious. Nevertheless, the performances are exultant and fun, deliberately comic and light, the refractory problem is not there, it’s in the insipid material they have to work the characters in the erroneous fashion; the script suffers significantly from a distracted writing, too shallow to discern the great allure of its extravagant epicness of action from the moments of essential mushiness. Precisely, this is the kind of film that relies heavily on a harmless and infectious emotionalism to be warmly artificial, but sadly there is not a single detail within the script that lets that delicacy of indulgent sensibility expand.

Visually it remains more than appealing in its vintage textures and airs, narratively it has aged considerably poorly. The Rocketeer entertains enough to deliver expensive and formidably directed set pieces, but the overall effect of the film is inconcrete, too dry for so much thrilling content that it never feels epic as it should.

The Rocketeer has an old-fashioned spirit and extroverted visual energy, nothing makes sense as a good comic book shouldn’t, however the priorities of this flawed film are where they shouldn’t be. Clearly the spectacle of this storyline is the roving action and suspense, yet that interplay of genres is emotionally incongruous, and never responds as it should to the slippery pace of the narrative, it’s a film that ignores the audience thinking that brisk entertainment will be enough to convey immediate and unforgettable sensations.

Matteo Bedon

Written by

When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them. Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.

You may also like...