Space Cowboys
Space Cowboys

USA, 2000. Rated PG-13. 129 minutes

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, James Garner, James Cromwell, Marcia Gay Harden, William Devane, Loren Dean, Courtney B. Vance, Rade Serbedzija
Writers: Ken Kaufman and Howard Klausner
Music: Lennie Niehaus
Cinematographer: Jack N. Green
Producer: Andrew Lazar
Director: Clint Eastwood


Grade: C+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

Note: There are minor spoilers in the last paragraph. They are marked.

Space Cowboys is Armageddon for people who hated Armageddon. That is to say, Space Cowboys isn't designed for audiences with the attention spans of four-year-olds and possesses summer movie rarities like character development. Nevertheless, Space Cowboys (a.k.a. Space Geezers) isn't all that good–just a mildly entertaining jaunt into outer space with four old leading men trying to show they've still got what it takes. That goes for both the actors and the characters they play.

Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood), Hawk Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones), Tank Sullivan (James Garner), and Jerry O'Neil (Donald Sutherland) are former Air Force pilots who in 1959 missed the opportunity to be the first Americans in space when they were pushed aside in favor of a chimp. Now, forty years later, a Russian satellite with a guidance system designed by Corvin for the Skylab project and copied by Russian spies is malfunctioning, and its orbit is rapidly decaying. The Russians appeal to NASA for help, but none of NASA's engineers know how to repair the antiquated system (not very plausible, but ya gotta have a premise). They turn to Corvin, who agrees to help only if he and his pals are on the mission. Eastwood in space

Things go wrong (surprise!) once they're in space, and they find themselves dealing with much more than they bargained for. That's not really the focus of the film. As is typical of Eastwood's style (he also directed), Space Cowboys is long on setup, and when the action finally comes, it's no-frills and concise. The focus is on the characters. That's to the film's benefit, because the interactions between the characters are the best parts of Space Cowboys–not just because they're funny, but because they're fully drawn people, in particular Corvin and Hawkins. These aren't just quipping old guys.

As Hawkins, Tommy Lee Jones (who is significantly younger than the other actors even though they're supposedly the same age–heck, he's not even old enough to date Catherine Zeta-Jones) balances Eastwood's headstrong intensity with his gregarious charm, but underpins the performance with a touch of melancholy. Hawkins is a screw-up, and he knows it. For his part, Eastwood has been much more willing to play flawed people in his later career (ever since White Hunter, Black Heart, probably) instead of symbols and icons. Corvin is prideful, confrontational, and still has some growing up to do. Like William Munny in Unforgiven, Corvin is something of a deconstruction of the characters Eastwood played when he was younger... up to a point anyway, as Space Cowboys is a much lighter film.

You care about all these guys by the time they finally rocket into space. That's good. However, caring about the heroes adds little to the suspense in the final chapter. The story is predictable, just like Armageddon. That's bad. When you already know what's going to happen, you're not exactly going to be pinned to the edge of your seat. [Ed. note: Minor spoilers follow] You know the drill: the old guys' allegedly obsolete skills will be counted upon to save the day. If it's something they focus on in the training, it's obviously going to get used in the climax. Then, somebody is going to be asked to make a Big Sacrifice, and you'll know exactly who that person is going to be well before it happens. Perhaps recognizing this, Eastwood declines to make a big deal out of any of it. It's nice to know he knows he's got a weak story. But that doesn't change the fact that Space Cowboys lacks payoff.

Review © August 2000 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2000 Warner Bros.

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