Finally, I have come to the end of the Wes Anderson movie catalog. By coming to the end, I have also come to the beginning. Today’s film is his first, Bottle Rocket (1996). If you know what you are looking for, there is a great deal in it that you will see (if, for some reason, you decide to see it), that will make you say, “Oh, yeah, I can tell that this is Wes Anderson’s directorial debut.” Another thing of note in many of his films is that they are either written, co-written, and/or star Owen Wilson. I have no idea if this is true, but I have a feeling that Bottle Rocket (the feature length version, not the short) was Wilson’s idea, and Anderson ran with it. Actually, I should say aimlessly strolled. The movie wanders around through the first two thirds to the point where, after about a half hour, the old man I live with asked, “Do you have any clue what this is about?” I had not the foggiest idea then, and after seeing the whole thing I am still uncertain as to what I saw. Perhaps my usual mental exercises with these reviews will bring me some clarity, if not for you.
The title, Bottle Rocket, has nothing to do with the beginning. Anthony Adams (Luke Wilson) is set to be released from a mental health facility after checking himself for anxiety. This is all voluntary, yet his overly-enthusiastic friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) is waiting outside to put in action his “genius escape plan.” The quotations are there for effect. The proposed route to freedom involves a set of tied together bed sheets hanging out the open window. When Anthony’s doctor sees the improvised rope, Anthony explains what is going on and suggests that he just go through with the charade. Once outside, Dignan explains an even grander plan for their lives as big-time criminals. This is part of his tutelage under his former boss at the landscaping company at which he had employed, Abe Henry (James Caan), referred to respectively by Dignan as Mr. Henry. According to Dignan, Mr. Henry is a criminal mastermind, but they need to prove their worthiness as lawbreakers by warming up with a few smaller jobs. The first involves a staged break-in of Anthony’s family’s house, though they try to make it as real as possible. When this goes reasonably well, they overly compliment each other and set to working out the details of their next heist. This subsequent job seems to require a getaway driver, and they only know one person with a car, Bob Maplethorpe (Robert Musgrave). After obtaining some guns, and settling a few arguments, they go through with their robbery . . . of a bookstore. Thinking they need to now go on the lam, they head out of town and end up and an inconspicuous roadside motel. They have no clear plan, they simply think they need to lay low. It is while they are staying in these cheap confines that Anthony meets Inez (Lumi Cavazos). He sees her one day while he is swimming and she is fulfilling her duties as a housekeeper. Though her English is limited, and his Spanish is non-existent, he commences to following her during her rounds. A relationship blossoms between the two. As for Bob and Dignan, they argue over their next step. The situation changes, however, when Bob is informed that his bully brother Jon (Andrew Wilson) is in jail for marijuana crops Bob had been growing. In turn, Bob leaves with car in order to take care of the situation. Not long thereafter, Dignan decides they must depart as well, a decision over which Anthony agonizes due to his budding romance. Still, he remains loyal to Dignan, but gives Inez the money they stole before they get back on the road in a stolen car, thanks to Dignan. When their pilfered rust bucket unsurprisingly stops working after only a few miles, and Dignan learns that Anthony gave the money to Inez, a fight breaks out and they go their separate ways. Anthony returns to the town they fled, and takes on a series of odd jobs in pursuit of an honest life. Eventually, Dignan comes back as well, makes amends for his behavior, and informs Anthony that he has finally made it onto Mr. Henry’s crew. He also wants to bring Anthony in on the next big heist, a proposed robbery of a local cold storage facility. With some initial hesitation, Anthony gives in only if Bob be allowed to participate. With some cursory reconnaissance, Dignan assembles small cabal to raid the targeted facility. It is a complete disaster. Nobody sticks to Dignan’s carefully constructed plan, his safecracker cannot crack the safe, their getaway driver accidently shoots himself, and Dignan is arrested. We conclude a few months into his incarceration as he gets a visit from Anthony and Bob, with Dignan giving them one last scare by telling them he had an escape plan.
There is a character in the animated series The Boondocks named Ed Wuncler III (voiced by Charlie Murphy). He is the son of a wealthy local business mogul, and he uses his privilege to carry out crimes that everyone lets him get away with due to his status. This is what I thought was going to happen early on in Bottle Rocket. In hindsight, I suppose I should have known better. Comparing Bottle Rocket to The Boondocks is ridiculous, and would suggest that the former might have a plot on par with the latter. This does not leave me with much to say. I have seen worse movies, and there were moments at which I genuinely chuckled. At the same time, the film focuses on a pair of hapless, wannabe criminals that quickly lost the interest of this Catholic reviewer. For this reason, when Inez initially refuses Anthony’s request that he come with her, I thought she is doing the right thing. She cites her desire for wanting somebody organized and driven, and Anthony possesses none of those traits. Yet, behold what love can do for a person. Amen, he turns his life around, and this gives him the wherewithal to start over with Inez. Then again, this is after Dignan finally, and in a left-handed manner, admits Inez’s love for Anthony. True love will make you do incredible things, like disrupting a friend’s carefully planned heist or laying down your life for the sins of the world. And behold, this same spirit motivates Dignan to be the one who gives himself up at the end, allowing Anthony and Bob to escape.
It is nice to have one Christian act at the end of Bottle Rocket. Unfortunately, you have to sit through the rest of the movie to get to it. If you want to be bored, then go for it. It is not a hateful state, but like any time else, there are better things to do. This is why you all have me. And, thankfully, I can now stop watching Wes Anderson movies.