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1 item from 1997

Film review: 'RocketMan'

10 October 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

A surprisingly delightful family comedy starring Canadian funny man Harland Williams, Disney's "RocketMan" has plenty of slapstick and silly humor for kids, while its satire of the space program is inspired enough to engage their elders.

Looking to easily achieve orbit its opening weekend, director Stuart Gillard's often-hilarious space odyssey has a good chance to draw healthy crowds for several weeks and successfully complete its mission.

Playing a NASA software engineer who against all odds joins the crew of the first manned mission to Mars, Williams starts off in turbo-nerd mode and rarely slows down. Following in the footsteps of Pee-wee Herman and Ace Ventura, Williams' lead character has that oblivious-but-talkative geek personality that draws one into a very goofy scenario.

Much of the credit for "RocketMan"'s crowd-pleasing entertainment value goes to Williams, but Gillard, screenwriters Craig Mazin and Greg Erb and a shipshape supporting cast have a lot of fun spoofing NASA and such movies as "The Right Stuff" and "Apollo 13".

Not unlike the studio's surprise summer hit "George of the Jungle", "RocketMan" is continually saved from being swamped by juvenile humor with snappy lines and partly serious physical action. Not every gag works, of course, but there are more than enough that do, and the actual landing on and exploration of Mars is just convincing enough to make the final reels exciting.

Call it "The Nutty Astronaut". Fred Z. Randall (Williams) has programmed the computer for a Mars lander with glitches that come out in training. Called in to fix the problem, the star-struck Randall is soon a dark-horse candidate to join the mission, but he has to outperform and otherwise drive a rival (Blake Boyd) crazy in a wacky sequence of physical endurance tests.

With the help of a fatherly ex-astronaut (Beau Bridges), Randall wins the endorsement of the mission flight director (Jeffrey DeMunn) and NASA's big cheese (James Pickens Jr.). In a shuttle-like craft on its way to Mars, the lead causes havoc in the routines of his fellow travelers -- a straight-laced space veteran (William Sadler), a voluptuous mission specialist (Jessica Lundy) and Ulysses the chimp.

By the end, some audiences will be cheering as "RocketMan" gives Randall the chance to be a hero, win the girl, and save the mission. Along with homages to classic science-fiction cinema -- including a cute Fred Astaire-meets-Stanley Kubrick moment -- "RocketMan" is a winning combination of believable and fanciful visual styles.

The same can be said for Williams ("Down Periscope"), who animates his fairly plain person into a comic whirlwind, including several imitations and a horrific shriek in one memorable scene. Indeed, "RocketMan" is loaded with dumb but harmless stuff, and one is amazed that NASA was so cooperative.

Kudos to Gillard and crew. The well-realized production boasts superb cinematography by Steven Poster, nifty production design by Roy Forge Smith and super costumes by Daniel Orlandi.


Buena Vista Pictures

Walt Disney Pictures presents

In association with Caravan Pictures

A Roger Birnbaum/Gold/Miller production

A Stuart Gillard film

Director Stuart Gillard

Producer Roger Birnbaum

Screenwriters Craig Mazin, Greg Erb

Executive producers Jon Turteltaub, Oren Aviv, Jonathan Glickman

Director of photography Steven Poster

Production designer Roy Forge Smith

Editor William D. Gordean

Music Michael Tavera

Costume designer Daniel Orlandi

Casting Rick Montgomery, Dan Parada



Fred Z. Randall Harland Williams

Julie Ford Jessica Lundy

"Wild Bill" Overbeck William Sadler

Paul Wick Jeffrey DeMunn

Ben Stevens James Pickens Jr.

Bud Mesbitt Beau Bridges

Gordon A. Peacock Blake Boyd

Running time -- 94 minutes

MPAA rating: PG


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