Home   |   Register               Web Search: by Google
channel navigation

Main Page 
Love Life 
In Store 

       TV Listings

'Space Cowboys': Geezers in Orbit

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 4, 2000


    'Space Cowboys' Blasts from the past: James Garner, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and Clint Eastwood. (Warner Brothers)
Hollywood, we have a problem! Stouthearted men who are, well, stout, stiff and creaky still see themselves as world-saving supermen. Don't they know that sooner or later everyone must join the senior tour?

Somebody ought to tell Clint Eastwood, who is back in the saddle in "Space Cowboys," an implausible action adventure with the most geriatric payload since a community of retirees lifted off in "Cocoon." While it has its comic charms, the yarn ultimately takes itself far too seriously. But then it would with the earnest Eastwood at the helm.

Sure, ancient astronauts can survive the rigors of space travel, as John Glenn ably demonstrated. It does, however, seem rash if not downright mad to entrust a shuttle to a former test pilot who hasn't flown in decades and has only three weeks to train for an extremely hazardous mission.

Should he fail, the world is toasted flakes.

Written by Ken Kaufman ("Muppets From Space") and frosh Howard Klausner, the overdrawn story line recalls 1998's "Armageddon." Only in this case it's not an asteroid but a failing communications satellite that threatens to pulverize Earth. Of course, only one man can save the planet. And we all know who he is.

Eastwood, gaunt and gnarly as an old fence post, plays Frank, a reckless former test pilot grounded in the late 1950s by NASA along with his three-man Team Daedalus: Tank (James Garner), Jerry (Donald Sutherland) and Hawk (Tommy Lee Jones). Tank and Jerry were disappointed, but Frank and Hawk were devastated. And the old buddies, who blame Frank's recklessness, haven't spoken since. Old scores are quickly settled when Frank and the others are called back four decades later to rescue Ikon, a rusty Russian orbiter with an ailing guidance system.

A NASA bureaucrat (conniving James Cromwell) who's Frank's longtime nemesis comes up with a plan when he discovers that Ikon's guidance system, mysteriously enough, is the very same one Frank engineered for Skylab years ago. Since today's astronauts are unfamiliar with the arcane setup, it's up to Frank to go upstairs to make the repair. And although we are repeatedly reminded that Frank "is not a team player," he refuses to blast off without the rest of Team Daedalus.

After the four are rounded up, a poky process, they travel to Cape Canaveral, where they hurriedly prep for the mission. The sly veterans have to stretch the rules to pass their physicals, but the flight director (unflappable William Devane) reluctantly gives them a green light anyway. However, he insists that two of NASA's sharpest aviators (Loren Dean and Courtney B. Vance) go along for the ride.

And wouldn't you know it? These gonzo vets show the cocky youngsters that they still have the right stuff despite slowed reflexes, declining vigor and the need for the occasional nap. Let the kids rely on computers. "But what if those computers go down?" asks Hawk, who later shows the fledglings how to fly by the seat of one's pants.

This development, like so many others, is hardly unexpected. Unfortunately, it is late in coming, as some 80 minutes pass before the team suits up and blasts off. The extended countdown includes an expository black-and-white prologue and leisurely introductions of each character as well as the team's self-deprecating preflight preparation.

Even when the movie finally gets off the ground, it never really escapes Earth's gravity, never captures the grandeur beyond the ozone. The climactic sequence hardly crackles with tension as the voyagers face travails similar to those encountered by the "Apollo 13" crew.

The actors are at their most ingratiating while struggling through the rigorous training and the embarrassing medical examinations. The googly-eyed, dentured and pretentiously ponytailed Sutherland is the most amusing of the four as an incorrigible ladies' man (which some might see as a little patronizing to his character). It's a pleasant surprise that the performers keep their mitts off the Lolitas when it comes to their romantic partners (Marcia Gay Harden, Barbara Babcock and Blair Brown).

Eastwood offers curmudgeonly machismo in a screen-hogging turn, but Garner, now a frail 72, hasn't the fire in his gut for the role of the team's navigator-turned-preacher. Jones brings his familiar brand of cracker charisma to the role of Hawk, who must have been a prodigy, for he's obviously quite a few years younger than his peers. Not that credibility is much of a concern here.

Americans may remain obsessed with youth, but we have changed the way we think of aging, thanks to active role models like Glenn, Cal Ripken Jr., Darrell Green and Sophia Loren. There's no need to waste away in a rocking chair. Then again, an aged movie hero doesn't have to board a rocket ship to prove his pluck, especially when the product placed most prominently here is not Pepsi but Ensure.

At least it's not Depends.

SPACE COWBOYS (PG-13, 129 minutes) – Contains profanity.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

Search Entertainment

Optional Keyword

powered by citysearch.com
More Search Options
Related Item
"Space Cowboy"
showtimes and details

Home   |   Register               Web Search: by Google
channel navigation