'Rocketeer' is calculated Disney effort

February 07, 1992|By Josh Mooney

THE ROCKETEER

Walt Disney Home Video ($92.95)

This big-budget Disney adventure tries very hard to bring Magic With a Capital M back to the movies, and sometimes succeeds; other times, it feels just a bit too calculated about its game plan -- more so even than "Raiders of the Lost Ark," from which it borrows.

"The Rocketeer," like "Raiders," is a good-natured homage to the action serial movies of the 1930s and '40s -- it's set in 1938 and has Nazis as its villains. The film and its hero, oddly enough, are based on a 1980s comic book by Dave Stevens -- itself a homage to earlier comic book heroes -- so it's full of knowing and self-referential moments in the finest post-modernist tradition.

The film was criticized initially for watering down some of Mr. Stevens' ideas and characters, but for viewers not familiar with his work, this shouldn't be a problem. Expectations were high for "Rocketeer" to become a blockbuster: It didn't, but that doesn't detract from its many charms. It's a bright, colorful and good-natured movie, which, while a calculated Disney effort, still takes some chances, not the least of which was to cast television actor Bill Campbell in the title role.

Mr. Campbell, full of low-key sex appeal (some will find him too low-key), plays Cliff, a 1930s California stunt pilot whose life seems stuck in a holding pattern, even though his girlfriend Jenny (played by the winning Jennifer Connelly) is a knockout. All this changes when he finds a rocket pack, straps it on and starts zooming around through the air. Suddenly, he realizes he could become a crime-fighting hero, battling mobsters and Nazis alike.

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