In the film “The Rocketeer,” Golden Globe nominee Billy Campbell (Once and Again) portrays young, test pilot, Cliff Secord. He dreams of winning the nationals, a prestigious air show competition. The task, already a difficult undertaking, becomes even more so when the plane he was counting on to lead him to victory is destroyed its first time in flight. His partner, Peevy, a role acted by Oscar Winner Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), who designed the plane, is equally upset by the crash; several years of hard work has literally gone up in smoke. (As an aside: Oscar nominee Harrison Ford (Witness) and Oscar winner Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting) were considered for the part of Cliff).
The reason the plane crashed is not because of poor flying on Cliff’s part, or a flaw in Peevy’s design of the plane, but rather the fault of criminals; specifically men who are on the run from FBI agents Finch (Ed Lauter) and Wooly (James Handy). The agents are pursuing the thieves, who have stolen a valuable piece of equipment designed by none other than Howard Hughes, played in the film by Emmy winner Terry O’ Quinn (LOST). The item is a one man portable rocket backpack; it is a prototype that the Nazis are desperate to get in their possession.
Cliff, while down hearted about the plane, is consoled, in part, because he’s dating the very attractive Jenny. The character is portrayed by Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind). Like Cliff, Jenny has dreams. She wants to be an actress. Cliff, makes the mistake, while the two are having dinner, of short changing her excitement over the work she’s doing on her latest film. The movie she’s working on stars matinee idol Neville Sinclair, a role acted by Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights). Sinclair is an Errol Flynn style swashbuckler. (As an aside: Oscar winner Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune) and four time Emmy nominee Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) were considered for the role of Sinclair).
Sinclair is not who he seems. He is a Nazi spy who has employed mobsters, led by Eddie Valentine played by Paul Sorvino (That’s Life), to get the rocket pack. Unbeknownst to both men, the rocket pack, which was thought to be destroyed when the FBI agents were in pursuit of Valentine’s men is safe. Cliff and Peevy find it, and in order to save a man’s life, Cliff has to use the pack. Word of the rocket’s use gets back to Sinclair and Hughes. Both men want it: Sinclair to give to the Nazis, in order to aid in their efforts of world domination; Hughes to destroy it, so it can’t be used by anyone for military purposes. Making matters worse, Sinclair, since he knows the rocket is in Cliff’s possession, has taken Jenny hostage. He is having her guarded by his hulking henchman, Lothar (Tiny Ron). Can Cliff save Jenny and keep the rocket from being handed over to the Nazis? (As an aside: Oscar winner Joe Pesci (Goodfellas) turned down the role of Eddie Valentine).
“The Rocketeer” was directed by Oscar winner Joe Johnston (Raiders of the Lost Ark). Paul De Meo (The Flash) wrote the screenplay for the film, based on a story De Meo co-wrote with Danny Bilson (Da 5 Bloods) and William Dear (Angels in the Outfield). The source material for the movie was taken from a series of 1930s pulp style, adventure comics written by Dave Stevens. The comics were published from 1982 through 1995. Pacific Comics (PC), Eclipse, and Dark Horse (DH) all published different installments. Stevens stated that the inspiration for the Rocketeer character was taken from a late 1940s, early 1950s, adventure hero, Rocketman. The film premiered in U. S. theaters on June 21, 1991. Parts action, adventure, family, and Sci-Fi, the movie has a runtime of 108 minutes. (As an aside: Three time Oscar nominee Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) did uncredited work on the screenplay).
This year is the 30th anniversary of the film. While “The Rocketeer” has gained a loyal following of fans, first with its release on VHS and subsequently DVD, its box office run wasn’t successful. This is the sort of film that can be watched as family entertainment; it’s devoid of anything that most will find objectionable. Recommended for viewers who like movies that feature old fashioned style adventure, and a protagonist that is easy to cheer for.