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Space Cowboys

Rated [PG-13], minutes
Starring Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, James Garner and James Cromwell
Screenplay by Ken Kaufman & Howard Klausner
Directed by Clint Eastwood

IN SHORT: Buy popcorn.

In general and, almost without exception, (director) Clint Eastwood makes very entertaining movies. As a reviewer, I have sat through more stomach turning, body piercing slice 'n' dice movies than I'd care to remember but almost nothing is as horrifying as eight sixty five year-old (or more) buttocks lined up side by side left to right on a forty foot tall movie screen.

Nah, I take that back. Mom would love it. It's also indicative of a huge amount of self-deprecating humor built into the script of Space Cowboys, in which masculine icons are metaphorically dragged out of the barn for one last ride.

Left to right, if memory serves, are the butts of William "Hawk" Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones ), Jerry O'Neil (Donald Sutherland ), the Reverend Tank Sullivan (James Garner ) and Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood ). Once upon a time, that being 1958 A.D., they were known as Team Daedalus, the best and brightest, most derring do pilots in the whole United States Air Force. When it came time to send a man into space, the quartet was shafted by their commanding officer Bob Gerson ( James Cromwell ), who sent a monkey named Mary-Ann into orbit. None of Team Daedalus ever got to the moon. None of 'em got as close as a sub-orbital flight, either.

The absolute hate between Eastwood and Cromwell's characters is almost enough to put some spark into the movie, which still has the feel of a reunion of old friends -- with some decades old baggage still needing to be resolved.

In the present day, a Soviet-era communications satellite called Ikon is about to give up the ghost. For reasons saved for the third act, the bird is way too large to be retrieved in a space shuttle. As well, in this new era of cooperation, it is decided that the bird should be repaired in orbit, rather than be allowed to combust in the fires of atmospheric reentry. Problem is, the only engineer alive who knows how to fix the thing is the guy who designed the system in the first place -- Corvin. With only a month or so until Ikon bites the big one, Corvin's demand that his original team fly the mission, essentially blackmail, is one that must be met.

Why the satellite is so darn big; How the Soviets lifted it into space in the first place and how a US guidance system (designed in 1969) got into a Soviet satellite (launched in 1984) is barely addressed in the story which, with four movie stars to give time to, emphasizes the battle to get these old hulks into shape -- mentally and physically -- for the mission. Just in case, there are two "real" astronauts, Ethan Glance (Loren Dean) and Roger Hines (Courtney B. Vance ), along for the ride. One of 'em, at least, has a secret mission . . . and we're not going to go deep into the wife left behind (Barbara Babcock) or the newfound romantic interests discovered by the new 'nauts (Marcia Gay Hardin and Blair Brown). With so many "known" faces and the need to give 'em all something to do, other than show up for a scene, lots of little plot ideas are left to dangle, like pens in weightless space, with a sentence or two of dialog to try and make everything nice and tidy inserted in the last scenes.

Net result is that all the fun stuff sits in the first two thirds of the flick, with the set up and training sequences. For space hounds and effects nuts like me, the time spent "in space" feels like it's been awkwardly compressed. It isn't just the need to make space flight move like jet flight (that's a necessity of movie construction in general), it's just that there's a real feeling that stuff is "missing" in the timespace between scene cuts. If you know more than the basics of space stuff, you'll catch it. If not, it's probably no big deal.

Needless to say, the effects by ILM are gorgeous. The plot twists in the final act, which won't be revealed here, are substantial. Problem is, there's so much necessary character development and humor stuffed into the first two thirds of the flick that the climax doesn't pack the kind of punch it should. Or, if you've sat through all the space themed movies of the last few years, there's a good hunk that'll feel like deja vu all over again.

What I said in that very first sentence in the very first paragraph above, I meant. Space Cowboys is a fun flick.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Space Cowboys, he would have paid...


Better than your average dateflick. With all the testosterone flinging about on screen we can't leave out the part played by William Devane , as the Flight Director who doesn't exactly like the idea of the old badgers flying his ships.

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