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Bottle Rocket (1996)

May 23rd, 2007 · 3 Comments

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Anthony (Luke Wilson) checks himself out of a mental hospital in Arizona. His friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) doesn’t realize it’s a voluntary hospital and has devised an escape for his friend. Returning home, Dignan briefs Anthony on an elaborate 75-year plan that includes practice jobs, a real heist, and eventual employment with the mysterious Mister Henry.

After they rob Anthony’s house for practice, Dignan allows their friend Bob Mapplethorpe (Robert Musgrave) to join the gang because he’s the only one with a car. Their robbery of a bookstore goes well, but as they go on the lam, Anthony doesn’t share Dignan’s excitement. “Your 75-year plan does not seem to be working. The only thing I’ve learned so far is that crime does not pay.”

Dignan checks the gang into a motel “until the heat cools off.” Anthony’s spirits are lightened when he meets Inez (Lumi Cavazos), a motel housekeeper from Paraguay. Inez speaks little English, but with help of a translator who works in the kitchen, the two fall in love.

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Bob abandons the gang when he receives word that his bullying brother Future Man (Andrew Wilson) has been busted for the marijuana Bob was growing in their parents’ backyard. Anthony and Dignan have a falling out, but repair their friendship back home when Dignan is asked to mastermind the robbery of a cold storage facility for Mister Henry (James Caan).

L.M. Kit Carson – whose screenwriting credits included Paris, Texas and the remake of Breathless – knew a kid named Owen Wilson through his dad, a friend of Carson’s who worked for Ross Perot. Knowing Wilson wanted to make movies, Carson took him to the 1992 Sundance Film Festival.

A few months later, Wilson introduced Carson to his roommate from the University of Texas at Austin. Wes Anderson had written the rough draft of a script called Bottle Rocket with Wilson, and directed an eight-minute short based on the opening pages, with Owen Wilson and his brother Luke as the leads.

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Carson helped raise the cash for Anderson to expand his short to 13 minutes, and it was accepted into the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. Carson advised Anderson & Wilson through two rewrites of their script, and pitched it to the studios. Producer Barbara Boyle liked it and ran it by Polly Platt, the noted production designer who had produced Broadcast News and Say Anything … with James L. Brooks.

Platt and Brooks were intrigued enough to fly to Dallas to hear a reading of the full-length script, but Anderson had formatted it incorrectly, and the reading went on forever. Brooks told Anderson & Wilson to trim it, but committed to producing Bottle Rocket for Columbia Pictures with a budget of $7 million.

A test audience in Santa Monica hated the movie so much, the studio only released it on 28 screens opening weekend. Not many people saw it, but the right ones did. Owen Wilson soon landed acting gigs in The Cable Guy and Armageddon, while Anderson’s sophomore film – Rushmore – was greenlit by Touchstone.

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Martin Scorsese included this film on his list of the ten best movies of the ’90s. I’d put Rushmore on that list ahead of this one, but Bottle Rocket is definitely an overlooked classic of the period. While so many other young directors were doing a poor man’s Quentin Tarantino, Anderson brought a whimsical touch and his own hyper-reality to what could have easily been a crime picture.

The movie looks and sounds unlike any debut I can recall. Robert Yeoman’s camerawork, and Mark Mothersbaugh’s cool, romantic score help give this film a style all its own. There’s so much in the first hour to love, from Dignan’s ludicrous idealism, to Bob’s relationship with Future Man, to the romance between Lumi Cavazos and Luke Wilson, who has never been as likable as he is here.

None of the business with James Caan works, but the botched heist at the end is pretty funny, and the line “They’ll never catch me, because I’m fucking innocent!” has become one of my favorites. It’s the dry sense of humor and overall casualness in Bottle Rocket that really cracks me up though. It was shot around Hillsboro, and in Dallas/Fort Worth, including at St. Marks High School, where Owen Wilson was expelled in the tenth grade.

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Roger Ebert found Bottle Rocket “too unwound and indulgent – but I have a certain affection for it.”

Film School Rejects sneaks back onto campus and gives Bottle Rocket an A+.

“It’s landscaping, not just mowing.” View a three-minute scene from the film.

Tags: Cult favorite · Famous line · Gangsters and hoodlums · Heist · Master and pupil · Road trip · Shot In Texas · Unconventional romance

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Seth // May 26, 2007 at 8:50 am

    Mexican peeing: Are you in the Marines?

    Dignan: Naw, man. I just have a funny haircut.

  • 2 Ben // Jun 28, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    Correction: Naw, I’ve just got short hair.

  • 3 x // Jul 20, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    its ‘are you in the army?’

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