Directed by Stuart Gillard. Starring Harland Williams, Jessica Lundy, William Sadler, Jeffrey Demunn, Beau Bridges. (1997, PG, 94 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 10, 1997
Oh Houston, we have a bit of a problem here. As far as kid-friendly, live-action Disney comedies go, RocketMan is “all systems go.” In the first starring role of his career, “RocketMan” Harland Williams (Dumb and Dumber, Down Periscope) receives a spectacular launch. Not since the heyday of comics like Don Knotts and the Three Stooges has such a goofy bumbler been hurled into outer space. It's all solid mayhem-in-a space-capsule fun, but I'm betting that this type of humor plays better with the young kids than with their adult chaperones who harbor vivid memories of the actual mayhem that can be caused by a single faulty O-ring or the voluminous close calls that can be sustained by one mere Mir. It's hard to believe that NASA actually cooperated with the makers of RocketMan, given the film's unflattering portrait of the self-serving decision-making process at the space agency and the flawed chain of command. Granted, the film's events appear none too realistic, from its hasty decision to send the genius goofball Fred Randall (Williams) on the first human mission to Mars to the numerous laws of space and physics that are broken in the name of comedic license. Let's just say that there are no rocket scientists aboard this space shuttle. There is a live monkey, however, which is used to little comic or narrative advantage. There are also good supporting players: Jessica Lundy as the love interest and what passes for the mission's scientist (she trains the monkey to collect space rocks); the solid and versatile William Sadler, who plays the ship's commander; dependable character actor William DeMunn as the rotten apple of the ground command; and one of the hardest working men in show business, Beau Bridges, as the rock-steady brains and heart of the ground operation. But it's Harland Williams who stands to gain the most from this comic caper. The film provides a grand showcase for this comedian's rubber-faced contortions, talented mimicry, and doofus dalliances. Williams' goofy face is one we're certain to see much more of in the future. In regard to one of the newest measuring sticks for judging kids' comedies -- the quality of the always-essential fart gags -- RocketMan pushes the scale another few notches. Airtight and umbilically attached space suits provide an original set-up for RocketMan's flatulence humor. For those whose brain circuitry doesn't fire off immediate red flags against a mirth-on-a-space-mission comedy, RocketMan may offer up an hour and a half of fun. Fact-bound party poopers may want to abort.