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Blu-ray Review: Disney’s ‘The Rocketeer’ Misfires With Lackluster Rerelease

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CHICAGO – Twenty years before helming “Captain America,” director Joe Johnston made another superhero picture that was equal parts nostalgic and bombastically patriotic. Though 1991’s “The Rocketeer” was distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, the material is so dark that it’s worthy of Touchstone. As a throwback to Saturday morning serials and classic Hollywood archetypes, the film is likably breezy and instantly disposable.

Sharing the effects-laden hollowness of Johnston’s debut feature, “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids,” but lacking in its wit, there’s little wonder that “The Rocketeer” failed to find an audience during its initial theatrical run. Yet there are enough highlights here to solidify the film’s status as a cult classic, particularly Timothy Dalton’s suavely snake-like villain who, in many ways, out-charms the cocky protagonist.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-ray Rating: 2.5/5.0
Blu-ray Rating: 2.5/5.0

Billy Campbell (AMC’s “The Killing”) stars as Cliff Secord, a smug, self-absorbed and cheerfully reckless stunt pilot designed to embody the spirit of America. After his prized plane crash lands, Cliff stumbles upon a jet pack that just might be his ticket to victory. He tests out the new equipment by soaring through town, endangering countless lives while hooting and hollering like the long-lost Duke of Hazzard. I realize that this material adapted from Dave Stevens’s graphic novel is not meant to be taken seriously, but the script by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo could’ve greatly benefited from a few more doses of whimsy. The hard-boiled dialogue does include a few memorable zingers such as, “Your buddy’s getting fitted for a pine overcoat.” Yet all too often, the film’s noir posturing evokes memories of Warren Beatty’s vastly superior 1990 adaptation of “Dick Tracy,” particularly when a hulking goon materializes wearing a grotesque mask (that unnervingly resembles Ron Perlman). It took me a few scenes to realize that the mask was intended to be his face, yet the dated makeup isn’t nearly as distracting as Industrial Light and Magic’s visual effects, which look thoroughly unconvincing in high definition. The most exciting footage focuses solely on actual planes, and the claustrophobic crash scene packs a genuinely frightening punch.

The Rocketeer was released on Blu-ray on Dec. 13, 2011.
The Rocketeer was released on Blu-ray on Dec. 13, 2011.
Photo credit: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Twenty one-year-old Jennifer Connelly is well cast as Cliff’s girlfriend, since she naturally exudes the vintage radiance of a studio-approved starlet.  While working as an extra on a film set, she falls under the lustful gaze of pompous movie star Neville Sinclair, played by Dalton with such exuberant malice that he bolsters every scene he’s in. Modern moviegoers who enjoyed Dalton’s work in “Hot Fuzz” will want to check him out here. There’s also some nice supporting work from Alan Arkin (as Cliff’’s fatherly mechanic), Terry O’Quinn (as a faerie godmother-like caricature of Howard Hughes) and the ill-fated Max Grodénchik, who met a similarly grisly end in Touchstone’s “Sister Act.” Yet for all of its polished period detail and well-staged set-pieces, “The Rocketeer” never truly takes flight. It lacks the textured characters and sense of wonder that enhanced Johnston’s best work to date, 1999’s “October Sky,” which was a very different film about rockets. Like Captain America, the Rockeeter looks just plain dopey when portrayed by a flesh-and-blood actor. He looks like a hood ornament powered by fiery flubber.
The twentieth anniversary Blu-ray edition of “The Rocketeer” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio) and doesn’t include a single extra or retrospective featurette, despite the fact that most of the major players are still alive. All that’s featured is the film’s original theatrical trailer, which strings together the best action shots to make the film appear more breathless and kid-friendly than the final cut.

‘The Rocketeer’ is released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment and stars Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton, Alan Arkin, Paul Sorvino and Terry O’Quinn. It was written by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo and directed by Joe Johnston. It was released on Dec. 13, 2011. It is rated PG.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

Anonymous's picture

Well, I thought Dick Tracy

Well, I thought Dick Tracy was plain awful. So there.

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