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2007 | 1997

2 items 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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Film review: 'Gridlock'd'

20 January 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

The ever-growing world of independent film is populated by many pretenders to the Tarantino throne. Occasionally, however, a bright and unique voice manages to rise above the cacophony of quirky imitators.

Such is the case of "Gridlock'd", marking the auspicious filmmaking debut of actor Vondie Curtis Hall ("Chicago Hope", "William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet"). Written and directed by Curtis Hall, the male buddy comedy boasts the unlikely pairing of Tim Roth and Tupac Shakur as junkie ersatz musicians who run up against a series of bureaucratic brick walls in their attempts to kick the habit.

A Sundance festival selection, the picture is something a bittersweet affair, given that, as the late Shakur's penultimate screen appearance (his final film, "Gang Related", arrives next fall), it offers more than a glimpse into his potential as a major movie actor, delivering an assured, warmly comedic performance.

This Gramercy release should find a comfortable niche for itself in both urban and specialty markets.

Set against the never-dull backdrop of Curtis Hall's hometown of Detroit, "Gridlock'd" follows the exploits of the nutty Stretch (Roth) and level-headed Spoon (Shakur), who reassess their lives when their friend, Cookie (Thandie Newton), who serves as the lead singer in their funky trip-hop, performance art ensemble, overdoses on New Year's Eve and is rushed on foot (no mean feat when you're in a coma) to a particularly understaffed hospital emergency room.

As Cookie recovers, Stretch and Spoon make a resolution to get clean, only to discover that the road to rehab is paved with reams of social service red tape. As they're shunted from one government department to the next, the friends also find themselves dodging a persistent drug dealer and his henchman (Curtis Hall and Tom Towles) looking to take care of some unfinished business, not to mention the police, who mistake the pair for murder suspects.

Cast as the year's oddest odd couple, Tarantino regular Roth and an against-type Shakur have a terrific rapport, with Shakur's calm voice of reason neatly counterpointing Roth's manic outbursts. Shakur's sharp sense of comic timing is especially in evidence during an audacious sequence in which Spoon attempts to hide out in the hospital by having an already injured Stretch deliberately stab him in the gut with a dull knife. Also delivering colorful turns are Newton as the alluring Cookie, seen mainly during flashbacks; and Howard Hesseman as a blind Vietnam vet who goes ballistic at a social services office.

Curtis Hall choreographs it all with a crisp style that puts a fresh spin on a well-travelled genre. He's efficiently backed by some vibrant camerawork, courtesy of director of photography Bill Pope ("Bound"), gritty production design from Dan Bishop ("Lone Star"), brisk editing from Christopher Koefoed ("Menace II Society") and an energetically percussive score from Stewart Copeland.



PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

An Interscope Communications production

in association with

DEF Pictures/Webster and Dragon Pictures

Director-writer Vondie Curtis Hall

Producers Damian Jones, Paul Webster,

Erica Huggins

Executive producers Ted Field,

Russell Simmons, Scott Kroopf

Director of photography Bill Pope

Production designer Dan Bishop

Editor Christopher Koefoed

Costume designer Marie France

Music Stewart Copeland



Stretch Tim Roth

Spoon Tupac Shakur

Cookie Thandie Newton

Mr. Woodson Charles Fleischer

Blind Man Howard Hesseman

Supervisor James Pickens Jr.

Cop #1 John Sayles

Cop #2 Eric Payne

Running time -- 91 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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2007 | 1997

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