Picks and Pans Review: The Rocketeer

updated 07/01/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/01/1991 01:00AM

Bill Campbell, Jennifer Connelly

Whoooooooooosssssshhhh! Hissssssssss! Smooehhhhhhh! There hasn't been this much enjoyable, good-spirited adventure bunkum and romantic hokum around since the last time Harrison Ford got his leather jacket out of mothballs.

Campbell (TV's Dynasty) is the right shape of hunk to play the phlegmatic '30s test pilot who gets excited only about his actress girlfriend, Connelly (The Hot Spot), and fast planes—not necessarily in that order.

He becomes the Rocketeer after he and his mechanic, Alan Arkin, stumble on a top-secret rocket-propelled flying pack being fought over by the FBI and some shady villains. That pits them against Timothy Dalton, as a swashbuckling actor involved with the real bad guys—the Nazis. But wait! The good guys have Howard Hughes on their side—in the dashing days when he was inventive and cut his nails.

This is Joe Johnston's second film as director. (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was first.) A Lucas-Spielberg protégé, he stages opening and closing sequences that are fast, colorful and clever enough to rank with the Indiana Jones or James Bond series.

In between, the repartee isn't what it might have been. Writers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, whose biggest previous credit was as executive producers of TV's The Flash, settle for piling up the slang: "The son of a bitch fly-boy hangs one on my kisser, and you let him waltz."

The casting, sets and period details are great fun though. Campbell and Connelly, a couple offscreen, play stalwart hero and resourceful heroine straight. Dalton, in a role that could have been modeled on rumors of Errol Flynn's Nazi sympathies, brings out the delectable qualities of evil. Arkin sends up the earnest sidekicks in '30s films; even his too-midwestern accent is funny.

Terry O'Quinn, as Hughes, looks much like the designer-producer did in his younger days. There are snappy Clark Gable and W.C. Fields impersonations. A clarinet-playing bandleader at a nightclub looks a lot like Artie Shaw. (Shaw's record of "Any Old Time," with Billie Holiday's vocal, is on the sound track.) An actor billed as Tiny Ron, who plays Dalton's henchman, is made up to resemble Rondo Hatton, the hulking menace in many '30s and '40s films. Even Campbell's rocket pack is only a slightly higher-tech rig than the glorified Thermos bottle worn by the actors who played Commando Cody in '50s serials.

All these nostalgic inside jokes should roundly entertain older members of the audience. Campbell's zooming around, lots of fiery effects and Hiro Narita's photography should more than hold the youngsters' attention.

Everyone can relax into the serene lack of complexity in the good-versus-evil plot and the bittersweet realization that they don't, anymore, make many uncompromised, full-time heroes whose idea of strong language is "You scared the living heck out of me!" (PG)

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