Space Cowboys

Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, James Garner
Director: Clint Eastwood

Here’s an amiable romp in space featuring some of filmdom’s more mature actors. And it’s good to see them in this easygoing, fun flick. Directed by Clint Eastwood, who just this past May turned 70, “Space Cowboys” plays on the aged theme very well.

It opens in 1958, showing younger versions of Eastwood (test pilot Frank Corvin), Tommy Lee Jones (test pilot Hawk Hawkins), Donald Sutherland (structural engineer Jerry O’Neill) and James Garner (Tank Sullivan, whose expertise was a little less clear) hitting the skies in their gung-ho manner and subsequently getting the shaft when NASA takes over the space program from the Air Force and decides that chimps make better astronauts than the likes of Corvin and Hawkins and the rest of their “Team Daedalus”.

This opening sequence establishes their characters very well and over and over again throughout the film we are reminded that Corvin is not a “team player” and that Hawkins is a huge risk taker, which works in their favor as NASA now has to use their old-time experience to solve the riddle of the equally aged satellite in space that’s soon to come crashing down on earth. It just so happens that the Russian “communications” satelitte is carrying Corvin’s guidance system that he designed for Skylab. What’s it doing on a Russian satellite? That’s what Corvin and flight director Eugene Davis (well played by William Devane) want to know. NASA administrator Bob Gerson knows but he’s not telling. For the past 40 years, he’s been harboring a deep-seated dislike of Frank Corvin and the feeling is mutual. So they both go into this project with equally deep distrust and you can expect lots of friction along the way.

The plot thickens when these lumpy astronauts realize their life’s dream to fly into space and then discover that the odds are against them. Leave it to Frank Corvin to save the day.

Eastwood handles his acting and directing chores very well, still playing the sneering one, but Tommy Lee has the best role as fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pantsHawk. Sutherland’s role, although sparser, is a doozy as Jerry, the ladies man who prior to this project was building roller coasters for a living. James Garner’s Tank, the present day Baptist minister, is unfortunately the least interesting. He’s also the oldest in the movie at 72 and he sure does look it. I was thinking how good in comparison, Tommy Lee Jones looked to the others. Then I remembered he’s just 53, a strange disparity in ages that really doesn’t fly particularly when you think of the opening sequence. But, he does get the girl – NASA mission director Sara Holland (very ably played by Marcia Gay Harden)!

Lotta says, all in all, “Space Cowboys” isn’t just “The Ripe Stuff”, it’s loads of good-humored fun. I say let the kids see “Space Cowboys” so they can learn that the world does not revolve around youth, and some people have to wait decades to realize their dreams.