02/12/1996 at 01:00 AM EST
Luke Wilson, Owen C. Wilson, Robert Musgrave, Lumi Cavazos
There's a note at the bottom of my notepad, scrawled while watching this small film about three college-age friends at loose ends in Texas. It reads: "Wow! What a debut." Although a tad hyperbolic, it specifically refers to Owen C. Wilson, who cowrote the script with first-time director Wes Anderson and who plays a character given to mapping out 5-, 25-and 50-year plans for his life, all of which involve becoming a world-class thief. Owen, with his blond brush cut and cocky swagger, reminds one of Dennis Hopper if Hopper had been force-fed Dale Carnegie lectures. He's funny, scary and jittery.
This is a small movie of raffish charm, similar in feel and tone to last year's independent hit The Brothers McMullen. It tells how three friends (the Wilsons, brothers in real life, and Musgrave), for lack of anything better to do, plan complicated robberies that go amusingly awry. Upon robbing a bookstore, for example, Owen finds himself stuffing cash into tiny bags meant for paperback books. "Don't you have any bigger bags," he pleads with the store's employees, "maybe for atlases and dictionaries?"
Bottle Rocket also boasts a neatly tart performance by Mexican actress Cavazos (she was the youngest sister in Like Water for Chocolate) playing a hotel chambermaid with whom Luke Wilson falls in love and several sly scenes by James Caan as a hustler who outhustles our heroes. (R)