Film Review: The Rocketeer (1991)

Also known as: The Adventures of the Rocketeer (Australia)
Release Date: June 19th, 1991 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, William Dear
Based on: The Rocketeer by Dave Stevens
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton, Paul Sorvino, Terry O’Quinn, Ed Lauter, James Handy, Jon Polito, William Sanderson, Margo Martindale, Clint Howard, Melora Hardin, Tiny Ron Taylor

Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, 108 Minutes

Review:

“That son of a bitch will fly!” – Howard Hughes

It’s been close to three decades since I’ve seen The Rocketeer, as I saw it in the theater in 1991 and once on VHS just after that. I hadn’t seen it since but I have always had pretty fond memories of the film. Now that it’s on Disney+, I figured I’d revisit it.

The film is actually much better than I remembered and I’m surprised that it didn’t leave a big enough mark on me to inspire me to buy it over the last 29 or so years. But I feel like the things I appreciate about it now are mainly due to my age and the lack of imaginative filmmaking that closed out the 2010s.

It feels very much like a 1990ish live action Disney movie but it reminds me a lot of Dick Tracy because of the period it takes place in, as well as the Indiana Jones films due to the involvement of Nazis, as well as being full of adventure, action and very ’30s-’40s pulpy elements.

The film is actually based off of a comic book character and that character was created as an homage to the rocket-backpack heroes of the old serials like Commando Cody.

The Rocketeer greatly benefits from having a large, great cast. Many of these people I didn’t even realize were in this, as I saw this in a time where I probably wouldn’t have recognized many of them. The bulk of the acting duties, however, fall on Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly and Timothy Dalton. All four are pretty good in this and Connelly, who’s never not been beautiful, looks like an old school Hollywood starlet from the silver screen era.

I loved Dalton in this, as the villain who is one-part Nazi stooge and one-part Basil Rathbone. His role as the actor within the film was really neat and a cool idea for a bad guy. He’s slimy and vile but you also kind of feel for him, as he’s being forced into evil by the Nazis. But don’t get me wrong, he’s still a total bastard and a great one at that.

The special effects, for the most part, hold up well. The only shots that looked odd were kind of unavoidable, as this was made in a time where you could hide things on celluloid film. This wasn’t made for the digital HD era, so there are a few bits that look wonky in a way that they probably didn’t in 1991.

From memory, this film was kind of a dud, financially. It should have been the start of a franchise for Disney but it didn’t connect with a large enough audience and we only ever got this one film. When I was a kid, I was really looking forward to more of these, as well as more Dick Tracy. Part of me kind of hoped that they could’ve crossed over but none of my dreams for these films materialized.

If you’re going to cancel Disney+ because The Mandalorian is over, you might want to give this a watch first.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other early ’90s family action movies, most notably Dick Tracy.

Film Review: Iron Eagle (1986)

Release Date: January 17th, 1986
Directed by: Sidney J. Furie
Written by: Kevin Alyn Elders, Sidney J. Furie
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Louis Gossett Jr., Jason Gedrick, David Suchet, Larry B. Scott, Caroline Lagerfelt, Tim Thomerson, Shawnee Smith, Melora Hardin, Lance LeGault, Jerry Levine, Robbie Rist, Michael Bowen

Delphi Films, Falcon’s Flight, TriStar Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“I wonder what a Cessna looks like splattered all over those rocks?” – Packer

This doesn’t survive on nostalgia points for me. Honestly, I didn’t even like this film as a kid. I mean, I enjoyed the last half hour, as that’s where the action comes in but everything leading up to that was really damn boring.

Seeing this now, and it has been at least thirty years, I was surprised that I wasn’t pulled into it a bit more as it features two teen actors from the time that I really liked: Larry B. Scott and Jerry Levine.

But the real problem with this movie is that it’s too damn long. I mean, this is nearly two full hours and only the last half hour is actually somewhat enjoyable. And to be honest, they could’ve lobbed 30 to 40 minutes off of this thing and no one would’ve noticed.

Additionally, even though the actual mission at the end is fairly fun, it’s full of flaws and errors that are distracting.

The main thing that sticks out is the editing. There are multiple moments in the movie where the video loop behind the pilots’ heads resets. So you’re looking at closeups of pilots in the cockpit talking and the background goes from a clouded sky to a quick jump of clear sky.

Plus, there are mistakes in how the action is edited that don’t make sense from a logistic and physics standpoint.

I think the thing that may irritate more than the shoddy editing is the models used for the planes, as every time one explodes, it is obviously a miniature and made of wood. Fighter jets don’t splinter like a balsa wood chair in a Chaplin movie. But I get it, it’s the ’80s, CGI didn’t exist like it does now and the film had a modest budget. But no one could call in a favor to one of the guys that worked on model making for the Star Wars or Star Trek films?

The acting is pretty bad too. And even though Louis Gossett Jr. has shown that he has chops, I think that it is this movie that actually wrecked his career. He went from An Officer and a Gentleman to this? But hey, at least it allowed him to have his own franchise, which he would then have to rely on over the course of three shitty sequels.

Seeing Iron Eagle now, I don’t hate it. It just would have been much better with a lot of stuff left on the cutting room floor and a bit more refinement in the film’s action packed climax.

I’m going to completely ignore the fact that the plot is stupid because this is the ’80s and it was escapism for kids, trying to capitalize off of the popularity of movies like Red Dawn. But in case you don’t know what the plot is, it’s about a decorated Colonel that helps a teenager steal an Air Force fighter plane to attack an enemy country in an effort to save the kid’s dad. Let that marinate for a minute.

So if I ever do watch this again, I’ll just skip to the finale and ignore the plot details.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: probably its subpar sequels and other ’80s and ’90s teens movies that throw kids into war or combat like Red Dawn, The Rescue and Toy Soldiers.