- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
riter/director Jeffrey Blitz must have thought himself a genius when he came up with the idea about a teenage stutterer who joins the high school debate team, but while the concept is certainly worthy of applause, its execution is not. Yet another film out of the Sundance School of Extreme Quirkiness, “Rocket Science” is like a chaotic hodgepodge of all the greatest adolescent cult films of the past decade. Unfortunately, while mimicking movies like “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Rushmore” may sound good on paper, it’s the natural comparisons to these films that make an inferior movie like “Rocket Science” stand out as a failure.
Though the film spends little time surveying the wonder of teenage wordsmiths, we do get a satisfying behind-the-scenes taste with an opening that takes place during the annual state tournament. It’s here that we’re introduced to Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D’Agosto), a debate virtuoso whose partner Ginny (Anna Kendrick) is so confident in his abilities that she’s already chosen a place to put the trophy. And then, suddenly, Ben freezes in the middle of his speech and all is lost. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, dorky New Jersey teenager Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson) is going through some life-changing events of his own. His parents have just separated, his mother has already begun dating (his best friend’s father, no less), and his brother Earl (Vincent Piazza) bullies him every chance he gets. Oh yeah, and he’s got a speech impediment that is so bad, he can’t even order pizza in the school lunch line.
Fast-forward through summer break and not a lot has changed. More than content with just sleepwalking his way through the day-to-day nightmare that is high school, Hal gets a sudden boost in confidence when Ginny personally selects him to be her protégé on the school’s debate team. Though his stuttering prevents him from performing at the level Ginny expects, Hal is much too busy falling in love to notice. When Ginny suddenly transfers to the neighboring private school, however, Hal discovers that it may have all been a plot to secure her place as the state champion. Desperate to prove that he has what it takes to succeed, Hal tracks down Ben (who’s since dropped out of school and moved to the big city) to enlist his help in preparing for the tournament.
An absolute must for quirky indie films, “Rocket Science” is positively littered with eccentric characters designed to keep the movie interesting even when the story isn’t. Unfortunately, most are so one-dimensional that it actually backfires in the filmmaker’s face. Thompson is impressive in a role that required he learn how to speak with a stutter, but the rest of the cast (including the usually funny Aaron Yoo) is horribly wasted, with Jonah Hill’s role as a library dwelling Junior Philosopher registering as one of the most unnecessary cameos of the year. Even Thompson’s stuttering lead can get annoying after some time, and it only makes the return of the charming D’Agosto that much more exciting when he arrives for the film’s final act.
Still, if you’re expecting anything along the lines of a happy ending, prepare to be greatly disappointed. Not that the conclusion of “Rocket Science” is depressing – it just is what it is, and after all is said and done, it doesn’t feel like Hal (or any of the characters for that matter) have made any sort of improvement in their lives. Sure, he can now order a piece of pizza with less trouble than he did before, but does that really count as an accomplishment? Maybe in the world of speech impediments, but it’s a pretty flat ending to a movie in desperate need of a little personality.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
The single-disc release of “Rocket Science” is utterly pointless. A 12-minute making-of featurette is the only special feature of any significance, while a music video for “I Love the Unknown” fails to serve as anything other than a consolation.