Quartet of Film Newcomers on Launching Pad with `Rocket': Light Touch on Comedy, Love Give `Bottle' Its Glow

Article excerpt

"Bottle Rocket," exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle, doesn't exactly light up the cinematic sky, but it does demonstrate enough comic promise to qualify as this year's first plausible successor to 1995's "The Brothers McMullen."

"Bottle Rocket" relies on a trio of actual brothers - the Wilsons of Dallas - to embody key roles. The most impressive, indispensable Wilson is Owen C., who collaborated with director Wes Anderson, a former classmate from the University of Texas, on the screenplay, a screwball caper comedy about three oblivious young men from an affluent Dallas suburb who experiment, ineptly, with fledgling careers as petty thieves and burglars.

Owen Wilson also plays the pivotal, troublemaking role of Dignan, the loose cannon suggested by the title. Mr. Wilson, who resembles the youthful Dennis Hopper and Chet Baker, is a bundle of misguided energy as the childishly dangerous Dignan, who persuades a couple of acquaintances - Luke Wilson as romantic hero Anthony Adams and Robert Musgrave as a hanger-on called Bob - to become members of an aspiring robbery "crew."

Dignan dreams of attracting the patronage of a professional thief, James Caan as a brawny, bombastic crook called Mr. Henry, who has devious reasons of his own for humoring rank amateurs.

The "crew" is a lonely, overcompensating one-man gang when you get right down to it. Dignan doesn't need comrades so much as obedient instruments of his lunatic will. One of the unexpected, witty features of "Bottle Rocket" is that Mr. Anderson and Owen Wilson seem to have an outrageous original in their grasp: They recognize a maddening excess of vanity and immaturity in Dignan. …