Space Cowboys

Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, James Garner, James Cromwell, Marcia Gay Harden, William Devane, Loren Dean, Courtney B. Vance.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
August 6, 2000

Clint Eastwood is one of those rare talents who has enjoyed highly successful careers in both acting and directing. He's in that elite group that includes Woody Allen, Robert Redford, and Warren Beatty. He knows what he's doing on both sides of the camera, and it's still apparent in his latest film, but somehow it manages to fall apart.

In Space Cowboys, he stars as Frank Corvin, a retired test pilot and engineer who nearly went into space back in 1958. A chimpanzee took his place, then Alan Shepard, and the rest is history. He feels that he was snubbed by Bob Gerson (James Cromwell), his commanding officer, because of a failed test flight he took with "Hawk" Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones) that cost the Air Force one too many experimental planes.

To this day, he holds grudges against Gerson and Hawk for his absence in history books. Gerson is now a top official at NASA, and he is warned about a falling Soviet satellite by a Russian Army engineer (Aleksandr Kuznetsov). The guidance system was stolen from SkyLab, the same system that Frank designed many years ago. The technology is so archaic that none of the engineers at NASA know how to fix it, and it's too big for even the shuttle to bring it down, so they call Frank out of retirement. Frank agrees to help, on the condition that he gets to take his old team into space, including Hawk, Jerry O'Nell (Donald Sutherland), and Tank Sullivan (James Garner).

Much of the film deals with the tribulations of getting the old guys back into the program. They have to pass physicals and train on the shuttle simulators. Moments of doubt are cast, but if you've see the ads, you know that all four of them end up on the mission. Unfortunately, that build-up takes an hour of your life away. At least it manages to be entertaining, with a lot of fun material between the old guys and the NASA people.

However, just when it's starting to work as a character-based comedy, a chain reaction of contrivance occurs. The space scenes look good enough (of course, nothing compared to Ron Howard's work in Apollo 13), but the underlying story is weak. It's also terribly predictable -- no points for guessing why a Soviet communications satellite would have to be so big. It leads up to an ending that should have been tear-jerking, but Eastwood doesn't set the proper tone. I guess that he wanted to avoid being manipulative, even at the cost of uncertainty.

All that is certain is Eastwood's desire to make a big space movie with a bunch of guys his own age (and yes, Jones is quite a bit younger than the rest, but it doesn't take much to make him seem older). He succeeds at that goal, at least. As for getting a recommendation out of me, he's going to have to do a little bit better.

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Space Cowboys (2000)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan