Bottle Rocket did not do well at the box office; by all accounts it was a commercial failure but launched Wes Anderson, Owen and Luke Wilson’s careers by drawing attention from critics and other Hollywood elite. Indeed, director Martin Scorsese named Bottle Rocket one of his top-ten favorite movies of the 1990’s.
The Bottle Rocket spring board helped Wes Anderson go on to direct two movies I hold in high regard: Rushmore (1998) & The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). As for the Wilson brothers—well it is common knowledge that both went on to star in various films like Old School and Wedding Crashers just to name a few. Not only did Anderson direct Bottle Rocket and Owen Wilson co-star in it, they also co-wrote the script. The only big name in the movie (at the time) was James Caan who played a quasi-gangster.
The film centers on a group of directionless young men living in Texas (in fact the entire film was shot in Dallas, Fort Worth and Hillsboro, Texas). Dignan (Owen Wilson) “rescues” Anthony (Luke Wilson) from a voluntary mental hospital where he has been recovering from self-described “exhaustion” for the past two years. Dignan concocted an elaborate escape plan to spring Anthony from the hospital as well as a 75-year plan that he proudly shows to Anthony. Part of the plan is to pull off several heists and then meet Mr. Henry (James Caan), a landscaper and dilettante criminal known to Dignan.
To begin their training, the two break into Anthony’s house, stealing a predetermined number of objects from a list. They then critique the heist and Dignan discloses that he took a pair of earrings not enumerated on the list. This upsets Anthony, as he had bought those earrings for his mother.
Bob (Robert Musgrave), the third spoke in this wheel, is a spoiled rich kid who raises marijuana in his backyard and lets his older brother beat him up on a regular basis. Together, the trio attempt several crimes that stand as monuments of ineptitude and are laughably-executed. These three are so bad at what they do that not even their victims take them seriously.
Eventually Dignan’s employer and mentor—Mr. Henry (James Caan), allows the trio to pull off a “major” robbery and lets Dignan run as point man for the operation; and, even though the robbery crashes and burns, Dignan passes through the flames of failure, finds self-worth and holds onto his youthful naiveté.
Friendship/family, fitting into society, purpose, self-worth, love, sadness, mischief, sacrifice and redemption- these themes run throughout “Bottle Rocket” (and all of Wes Anderson’s movies); yet, Anderson weaves them together with such soft humor that one can easily forget the gravity of the characters’ pains and frustrations.
I love this movie, but beware it is entertaining only for the quirky. If you are not into unconventional and subtle humor don’t bother. Otherwise it is a classic destined for cult status.