Quartet of Film Newcomers on Launching Pad with `Rocket': Whimsical Feature Is First for College Pals

Article excerpt

"I guess D.C. doesn't have a lot of nice hotels," quips Owen C. Wilson. He knows better. The most charismatic newcomer in a fresh new feature titled "Bottle Rocket," Mr. Wilson is indulging an amiable dig at Columbia Pictures. Evidently, the company systematically spared expenses while arranging a two-week promotional tour for a "Rocket" delegation.

Washington was the final stop for that personable delegation of four, which included three Wilsons. Owen, 26, was accompanied by brothers Andrew, 31, and Luke, 24, who also have roles in the movie, an offbeat caper comedy that opens exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle today. The party was completed by director Wes Anderson, 26, who collaborated with Owen on the screenplay.

A very savvy quartet, they were suitably bemused by the second-class status of their downtown but cramped and unstylish accommodations - no fleabag, but no Ritz either.

"This sums up the trip," Owen observes. "We have had some excellent views of better hotels."

This penny-pinching send-off had its puzzling aspects. For starters, Columbia would appear to have a modestly exploitable novelty in "Bottle Rocket," which adds to the sum of promising whimsy that has emerged recently from graduates of the University of Texas at Austin.

First Richard Linklatter's "Slacker," then Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi." Now "Bottle Rocket," which grew out of an undergraduate friendship between Owen Wilson and Mr. Anderson, who met in a creative-writing class in their junior year. Mr. Wilson graduated from a military school in New Mexico after being expelled in the 10th grade from St. Mark's, a Dallas prep school, which welcomed the prodigal back while lending its grounds to a few sequences in "Bottle Rocket."

The film was shot for the most part in the Dallas area, where the Wilsons and Mr. Anderson grew up. Luke Wilson, later a St. Mark's graduate, dryly notes, "Owen didn't leave much of a legacy."

Mr. Anderson directed a preliminary version of "Bottle Rocket" in 1992 after he and Owen Wilson completed their script. A 13-minute sample, the first draft consisted of two early sequences. "It wasn't meant as a short," he explains. "We intended to keep shooting piecemeal as we raised a few thousand dollars at a time."

The eventual feature, completed on a slim but adequate professional budget of $6 million, was made under the auspices of Hollywood mentors James L. Brooks and Polly Platt.

Someone at Columbia might have been expected to recognize the risk factor involved in providing young humorists with generous ammunition. The "Bottle Rocket" Economy Tour easily could enrich the annals of movie comedy in some future collaboration between Mr. Wilson and Mr. Anderson, who remain close friends and an active writing team.

Owen and Luke have principal roles in the movie, cast respectively as a criminally inclined loose cannon called Dignan and an amorously inclined pal named Anthony. The latter is susceptible to Dignan's petty-theft schemes, but he has an excuse of sorts: He's just been released from a sanitarium. …