1991, PG, 108 min. Directed by Joe Johnston. Starring Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 21, 1991
Summer movies have been taking a lot of guff (mostly from film critics) these last few years for being hollow, empty things devoid of any real substance, and while that may be true occasionally, it's important to remember that Hollywood's bottom line – after profits, of course – is and always has been entertainment. And there's nothing wrong with that. The Rocketeer is a journey into a time when the bad guys wore swastikas and the good guys were handsome and (usually) ended up doing the right thing. Such an idealized time never really existed, to be sure, but once in a while it's nice to think it might have, and Johnston's (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) film captures this comic book reality far better than last year's Batman or Dick Tracy. Set in 1938 Hollywood, the film follows the exploits of Cliff Secord (Campbell), an unemployed aviator who stumbles across a bizarre jet-pack that enables him to fly without benefit of a plane. Stolen from its designer, Howard Hughes (Terry O'Quinn of The Stepfather), Cliff initially sees the rocket-pack as a means for picking up a few bucks, but quickly changes his mind when the mob, the Feds, and the Nazis begin to hunt him down, messing up his job opportunities and his love life in the process. Assisted by his faithful mechanic Peevy (Arkin), Cliff becomes the Rocketeer of the title and manages to save his girl, his friends, and, ultimately, the security of the free world (all in under two hours!). Director Johnston looks like an up-and-comer to watch out for; his sure handling of the subject matter keeps the film from lapsing into the self-parody of Dick Tracy or the Jungian pretense of Batman without seeming pointless, and his re-creation of late-Thirties Hollywood is about as good as it gets. There's no great statement here, no oddly disquieting revelations about one's self or the state of the Soul, but what the hell? Does it matter? Not a bit. The Rocketeer is a gung-ho all-American summer flick with the guts not to try and be anything else. Besides, how can you not like a film with Nazis, G-Men, Clark Gable, Rondo Hatton – and an accidental testing of a prototype “Spruce Goose” by a guy with a hood ornament on his head? Gosh, wow!