Though a great film essentially requires fantastic performances from its actors, those performances and their respective actors alone cannot make the film great. Herein lies the problem with Pretty Bird, an official selection from the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. The good news is that Billy Crudup and Paul Giamatti shine in this story of invention that combines the eccentricities of The Aviator with the peculiarity and silliness of The Men Who Stare at Goats. However, a messy story (not to mention a poorly conceived title) tends to overshadow their performances in a film that doesn’t come together as easily as the infamous rocket belt on which the story is focused. After the jump, find out why Pretty Bird just doesn’t quite take flight.
It is said that inventors have a flash of genius before they set off on making their dreams and ideas a reality. For Curtis Prentiss (Billy Crudup), it doesn’t seem like there’s any genius, but there’s certainly a lot of motivation to succeed where many have fallen. Curtis, a fast-talking, idea man looking to manufacture the worlds first fully functional and marketable rocket belt just like the one James Bond uses in Thunderball. Sure Curtis has the idea, but he needs the money and the technical mind to make it all come together, so he enlists the help of his longtime friend Kenny (David Hornsby) who has a full bank account thanks to his successful mattress business. Then the two look to fill their lack of engineering wits and discover Rick Honeycutt a down-on-his-luck, out-of-work rocket scientist whose all-time low seems to be instantly erased by the dream of the rocket belt.
The impractical, tangible manifestation of the American dream lies in this rocket belt, and like and dream worth fighting for, there’s hurdles to overcome for all. At first the difficulty seems to be the building of the rocket belt itself, but then Curtis, Rick and even Kenny all have a little something to start hating about each other. Curtis pretty much loses all of Kenny’s money he earned through his mattress business, Kenny loses a friend in Curtis as he blindly, and rabidly pursues success in selling the rocket belt design, and Rick loses his mind in paranoia about losing credit and the rocket belt itself that he has physically realized. These may be exactly the kinds of minds that come up with harebrained schemes and ideas that make millions, but these specific men just can’t make it happen. Sadly, director Paul Schneider can’t make a cohesive or even reasonable ending come through either.
After a promising and engaging first two acts, I found the third act to be completely nonsensical and lacking any real importance, depth, or even closure (not that an ambiguous ending is always bad, but in this case, it just doesn’t make any sense at all). What starts out as a promising collection of eccentricities and open-ended questions (Is Kenny gay? Is Curtis autistic or obsessive compulsive?) we’re left with a sloppy mess of an ending that just doesn’t work. In the end Pretty Bird shares many qualities with the rocket belt the film’s characters idolize so much. It was a great idea, and it may have some working parts, but damn it if the final product just doesn’t strike the right chord with an audience.
There are none, so prepare to be disappointed.
THE FINAL WORD:
Pretty Bird was probably once a great idea, but like the inventors in the film, the story gets lost in itself. It’s worth a rental for some fine performances, but certainly not worth a purchase.