Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson)

Rating: *** (out of ****)

My respect for Columbia Pictures is growing. First, they pick up Robert Rodriguez' insanely low-budget El Mariachi; now, they're distributing this rather unusual comedy, shot and acted with a devil-may-care attitude that's more or less the antithesis of big-budget Hollywood filmmaking. Bottle Rocket certainly looks professional, but its narrative rhythms are completely unpredictable; this is one of few studio pictures during which I generally had no idea on earth what might happen next. Much of the comedy derives from the editing as much as it does from the dialogue or performances (both of which are excellent, particularly co-writer Owen C. Wilson's work as thickheaded Dignan). The characters are a refreshing change from the Bill/Ted/Wayne/Garth stereotype -- endearingly childlike yet somehow still completely three-dimensional. And get this: no pop culture references! Hallelujah. Actual movie stars James Caan and Lumi Cavazos (Like Water for Chocolate) are given little to do, and the third act is a bit of a mess, but it's still an engaging, often hilarious ride.