ROCKETEER'' doesn't take off until it is 30 minutes along, but when it does, it zooms, offering a good time.
Based on the comic book series authored by Dale Stevens, which first appeared in 1981, the new film takes place in 1938 when the world was on the brink of war.
The government is experimenting with a rocket pack that will allow a man to fly, so long as he is wearing fire resistant pants. This device is used in one of the Sean Connery-James Bond movies, and before that, ''Buck Rogers'' used it as his principal form of travel, but ''Rocketeer'' makes it all seem new and most amusing.
Howard Hughes, played by Terry O'Quinn, is behind the development of the rocket pack, and when a plane holding the equipment crashes, the authorities pick up the wrong apparatus -- a vacuum cleaner.
The rocket pack, meanwhile, falls into the hands of a young man, a commercial flier, who learns to fly with it and at the same time leads everyone on a merry chase, one that includes Hughes, the government, gangsters and the Nazis, all of whom would love to get their hands on the thing.
Timothy Dalton plays a movie star, a hero of action films. He is obviously patterned on Errol Flynn, who, according to one biographer, Charles Higham, may have been working with the Germans during World War II.
The actor isn't called Flynn. He is known as Neville Sinclair, and while the movie he is working on is called ''The Laughing Bandit,'' it is obvious that the producers of this film mean to suggest ''The Adventures of Robin Hood,'' which Flynn did in 1938. They go so far as to reproduce -- almost to the step -- the staircase on which Basil Rathbone and Flynn staged their final joust.
At the same time, the actress playing the lead in the film within the film wears a costume similar to those worn by Olivia De Havilland as Maid Marian to Flynn's Robin.
Interesting. Flynn isn't here to protest, so we'll have to take this for what it is, another revelation by Higham, who has made a specialty of these things.
At any rate, most of the action in ''Rocketeer'' takes place in Hollywood, and the makers of the film have managed to capture the era nicely. A vocalist does songs of the era, and characters representing W.C. Fields and Clark Gable walk by in the night club to which Sinclair has taken Penelope, girlfriend of the pilot.
The girl, a Hollywood starlet, is kidnapped by the movie star, with the help of a goon who looks like a leftover from the recent ''Dick Tracy'' (and has every right to -- both these films were done by the same company).
O'Quinn as Howard Hughes has a few good (not-so) inside jokes, and Paul Sorvino is Eddie Valentine, a gangster who agrees to help the film star steal that rocket pack. But when he learns that it would go to the Nazis, he's appalled. He may be a thief, but he is 100 percent American, he says.
The special effects are superb. They don't call it the Hindenberg, but there is a zeppelin in the film which more than suggests the Hindenberg and aboard which much of the climactic action takes place.
Give ''Rocketeer'' about 30 minutes. That's how long it takes to lift off the ground. When it does, you'll fly with it.
Bill Campbell is the pilot, Jennifer Connelly is his girlfriend who hopes to become a star, and Alan Arkin is the scientist who discovers how to use the rocket pack. Nice casting, and yes, the film is open-ended. We will undoubtedly be seeing sequels.
/# ''Rocketeer'' opens here today.
@''The Rocketeer'' *** A young man finds a rocket pack that allows him to fly.
CAST: Bill Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton
DIRECTOR: Joe Johnston
RATING: PG (violence)
) RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes