08. Bottle Rocket (1996)
Runtime: 1 hr. 31 min.
Cast: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave, James Caan, Lumi Cavazos, Andrew Wilson, and Kumar Pallana
How Is Bill Murray Involved?: For the one and only time in this entire list: he’s not!
Plot: Would-be cat burglars Dignan (Owen Wilson) and Anthony (Luke Wilson) aren’t hardened criminals; mostly, they’re just looking for a way out of the mind-numbing suburban ennui of the Dallas Metroplex. Thanks to Dignan’s elaborate planning and almost-successful practice heists, the pair (along with their put-upon friend, the would-be pot farmer and getaway driver Bob) catch the eyes of some interested parties. For Dignan, it’s Mr. Henry, a landscaping contractor and small-potatoes criminal kingpin. For Anthony, it’s Inez, the chambermaid at the group’s roadside motel hideout who might give him a non-criminal reason to live. Friendships are tested, loyalties questioned, and safe-cracking skills put to the test as the boys join Mr. Henry’s gang for the big robbery that might put them on the map (or land them in something worse than a voluntary stay at a mental hospital).
It Is Beautiful, Steve: In his first feature, Wes Anderson’s soundtrack game wasn’t yet at the legendary level it would eventually attain. His first collaboration with Mark Mothersbaugh produced a Tex-Mex grab bag of a score that remains pleasant without being terribly memorable. Bottle Rocket also mostly eschews the British Invasion influences that dominate many of Anderson’s films; the closest you’ll get here is a single track (The Rolling Stones’ “2000 Man”), which, along with essential tracks by Arthur Lee and Love, doesn’t even appear on the official soundtrack release. The best song that does? The Proclaimers’ “Over and Done With”.
How Much Kinks?: None! You’ll get the Stones and like it.
A Word on Fonts: Anderson’s affinity for Futura is apparent immediately; his favored font appears first in Bottle Rocket’s title card. After that, though, it only appears sparingly, adding to the generic vibe of the boys’ motel hideout and the institutional anonymity of Hinkley Cold Storage.
Best Doomed Love Affair: There really isn’t one; the film ends with Bottle Rocket’s only love story (between Anthony and Inez) still on the giddy upswing.
Most Problematic Fave: Though it ends up being mutual, Anthony’s initial attraction to Inez always felt a little creepy; even excepting the language barrier, the dude mistakes common courtesy for an invitation to follow her around while she works (without changing out of his bathrobe, no less) and then steals the picture of her sister out of her locket! Is that … is that courtship?
Most Gratuitous Set Fetishism: “Gratuitous” is the wrong g-word for this one. Try “grounded.” From the drab bookstore to the chintzy motel to the bar where Dignan gets decked, Bottle Rocket generally places its characters in settings that emphasize the feeling of lived-in Texas boredom. In the interests of completion, we’ll give the nod here to the the mid-century cool of Bob’s house; bet Futureman makes a mean highball.
Best Prop: There are a couple of low-key contenders for this one; the book of Roosevelt dimes drives home the oppressive suburban normalcy while the pharmacy pinball machine makes for some cool shots. However, the honor here goes to Dignan’s Honda minibike, whose half-mature impracticality really drives home its owners fascination with boyhood-style misadventure.
Bob Gets the Spirit Award: This category is named after him, so Bob Mapplethorpe is our winner, even if there’s not “a real air of mystery” about him.
Verdict: Wes Anderson’s first movie is also one of the few to feel rooted to its time period; you can see the through lines between this and the stylized crime of Pulp Fiction, the aimless slackerdom of Clerks, and the desperate longing of Trainspotting. If Anderson never quite transcends his contemporaries on this first try, he still manages to turn out a film that you wouldn’t have been disappointed to rent sight-unseen from a Blockbuster in 1997. Even if he’d never made another movie, the film likely would’ve found cult fame thanks to the manic criminal optimism of Owen Wilson’s Dignan alone. As it stands, Bottle Rocket is instead a pretty good movie in a filmography filled with pretty great ones.