For this week’s TBT Review I took to Twitter to let you, the reader, decide what I would be writing about. Well the people have spoken, and you demanded that I watch and review 1991’s The Rocketeer! Okay maybe not ‘demanded’, it was actually tied with 2001’s Bubba Ho-Tep. Other options included Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore which came in second, and 2006’s Running with Scissors which secured a whopping 0% of the vote. That’s all irrelevant now, we have our movie so let’s get to it.
The Rocketeer is a 1991 action/comedy directed by Joe Johnston, starring Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, and Timothy Dalton. Campbell stars as Cliff, a young, wholesome, and talented pilot in 1938 Hollywood. The movie opens with Cliff testing out a show-plane while simultaneously some criminals are being chased down by FBI agents. The two outlaws find themselves in Cliff’s hangar and hide the yet to be revealed package they stole in an old plane before making a run for it. Shortly after we discover that this mysterious package was created by none other than Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn) for the federal government!
Cliff later finds the package and realizes that it’s a, you guessed it, rocket. Cliff and Peevy (Alan Arkin) are fully aware that this item was stolen by gangsters and being sought out by the FBI so they do the only reasonable thing: they strap it to a statue and launched that bitch into orbit.
At the next plane show, Cliff is forced to use the rocket pack to fly up and rescue a friend from an out-of-control plane and the legend is born: The Rocketeer is here! The story of The Rocketeer spreads like wildfire, and soon after Cliff is being chased by the FBI. Also after Cliff is Eddie Valentine and his crew of gangsters, under the employ of the Errol Flynn-inspired movie star Neville Sinclair (Dalton) who is after the rocket for unknown reasons.
In order to lure Cliff into the open, Sinclair takes a page out of Bowser’s playbook and kidnaps Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny (Connelly). This is where the movie really gets underway with a whole lot of action, featuring FBI agents unloading hundreds of bullets into a civilian dwelling, a hitman with gigantism, and a 50-something airplane mechanic knowing more about planes than Howard Hughes. This culminates in a “hand it over or I kill the girl!” scene with The Rocketeer and Sinclair/Valentine, before Jenny reveals a truth that she discovered while captive: Sinclair is a damned, dirty Nazi! That’s right, Sinclair couldn’t just be a pompous actor turned thug, he’s also a kraut spy!
Upon learning of this, Valentine and his men turn on Sinclair and demand he let the girl go. In response to this betrayal, Sinclair summons about three dozen Nazi soldiers from the bushes nearby (because why not?) and we get a good ol’ Patriot vs. Nazi shootout. During the chaos, Sinclair escapes with Jenny to his massive blimp with a giant swastika on the side that somehow went previously unnoticed. The spy and his crew of German stereotypes begin their escape and are seemingly home free, they would need some sort of flying man to catch them now! Wait a minute…
Our friendly neighborhood Rocketeer jets up to the blimp to save his gal and confront Sinclair. After tumble around the cockpit, Jenny sets off a flare gun to break the two up but inadvertently sets the whole place ablaze. Sinclair makes his escape with the rocket pack, but unfortunately Cliff had discreetly undone a repair that had been made to it and Sinclair turns into a big ball of flaming kraut. Cliff and Jenny are saved from the burning blimp by Howard Hughes moments before the hydrogen ignites and they live happily ever after.
The Rocketeer is equal parts fun and “uh seriously?” making for a bit of a strange experience. As the movie went on I just couldn’t decide if I actually liked it or not. Some of The Rocketeer‘s campiness worked really well and was very enjoyable, such as the first scene between Sinclair and Valentine or the giant hitman’s hospital visit, while others were borderline cringey (basically all of the Nazi scenes). The best acting came from Connelly and Arkin, largely because you simply don’t notice their acting.
There are some older movies whose campiness ages like a fine wine and are able to hold up year after year despite, or perhaps because of, those “subpar” qualities. Other films by Johnston, such as Jumanji (1995) and Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989), are great examples of this. And then there’s The Rocketeer, a movie that ranged from “what the hell is happening?” to “that was kind of cool”. Having never seen The Rocketeer prior to this week, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of love for this movie is likely thanks to childhood nostalgia. All in all, it was an okay movie but probably not one I need to see again.
Final Score: 5/10