This Distracted Globe random header image

Guys Past Their Retest Dates

May 5th, 2010 · 7 Comments

Space Cowboys 2000 poster A Space Cowboys 2000 poster B

Space Cowboys (2000)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Ken Kaufman & Howard Klausner
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Andrew Lazar
130 minutes

There’s junk orbiting Space Cowboys, an adventure comedy so good on so many different levels and so pedestrian on the same number of levels. Ken Kaufman & Howard Klausner wrote the script on spec with Paul Newman & Robert Redford as casting notions before producer Andrew Lazar helped set the project up at Warner Bros. where Clint Eastwood went for it. What’s novel here — at least in relation to disaster movies like Deep Impact or Armageddon — is how all the familiar stoic mission recruitment moments, goofy training sequences or perilous space activity is handled by guys past their retest dates, relying on stuff beyond brawn to answer challenges. The ages of these characters afford some stellar casting opportunities as well, with Eastwood and his Kelly’s Heroes pal Donald Sutherland reuniting and shining among the cast.

The special effects (by Industrial Light & Magic and by WonderWorks), not only cut glass but move at just the right velocity, allowing the grandeur of men working in earth’s upper atmosphere to dance across the eyeballs. There’s a pertinent message here about seniors being left in the scrap yard like obsolete aircraft and how that rust can be shaken off. Space Cowboys gets off to wonderful start by introducing the characters as young men and catching up with them 40 years later, but then it coasts. The NASA sequences look shoddy, Tommy Lee Jones looks lost amid an ensemble (Jeff Bridges must not have been available) and the characters are surrendered to a plot about a Russian satellite. There’s no suspense and no question where this material is headed, but it’s well intentioned and well crafted enough to work while it’s playing.

31 Days of Eastwood

In 1958 at Edwards Air Force Base, test pilots Major William Hawkins (Eli Craig) and Frank Corvin (Toby Stephens) must eject from their X-2 after “Hawk” pushed the jet to 110,000 feet. Their dreams of reaching the moon are scuttled by their boss Bob Gerson when a new agency called NASA is formed to assume upper atmosphere testing. 40 years later, an aging Russian communications satellite begins to fall out of orbit. Now a NASA project director, Gerson (James Cromwell) and engineer Sara Holland (Marcia Gay Harden) attempt to fix the glitch on behalf of the Russians by contacting Corvin (Clint Eastwood) — now four years past retirement age — whose guidance system design not only ended up on a Soviet satellite but has become so outdated, none of NASA’s engineers understand it.

Unwilling to allow the satellite to re-enter earth’s atmosphere for reasons he prefers not to disclose, Gerson is pressed by Corvin to send him and his original team into space to capture and repair the satellite. This includes Hawk (Tommy Lee Jones) now a cropduster who hasn’t spoken to Corvin in 12 years, structural engineer Jerry O’Neill (Donald Sutherland) who’s blind as a bat but still the ladies man and Tank Sullivan (James Garner), a navigator who became a Baptist preacher. Compared to the MIT trained astronauts (Loren Dean, Courtney B. Vance) piloting the space shuttle, Team Daedalus is obsolete hardware, but Gerson’s plan to get rid of them backfires when the space cowboys become media darlings. Sent into space, the astronauts discover they’re dealing with a device far deadlier than a communications satellite.

Space Cowboys 2000 Eli Craig Toby Stephens

Space Cowboys 2000 Clint Eastwood

Space Cowboys 2000 Clint Eastwood Tommy Lee Jones

Space Cowboys 2000 James Garner Clint Eastwood Donald Sutherland Tommy Lee Jones

Space Cowboys 2000 Marcia Gay Harden

Space Cowboys 2000 Blair Brown Donald Sutherland Clint Eastwood James Garner

Space Cowboys 2000

Space Cowboys 2000 James Garner Tommy Lee Jones

Space Cowboys 2000 Donald Sutherland Clint Eastwood

Space Cowboys 2000 Clint Eastwood Barbara Babcock

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 113 users: 79% for Space Cowboys

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 73 for Space Cowboys

What do you say?

Tags: Man vs. machine · Master and pupil · Military · No opening credits

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Yojimbo_5 // May 5, 2010 at 10:43 am

    While I was researching “Space Cowboys,” I learned that Jack Nicholson almost did this movie (as the Garner character) when Eastwood mentioned the project during a golf game. Sean Connery was briefly attached in the Sutherland role.

  • 2 Mrs. Thuro's Mom // May 6, 2010 at 1:30 am

    This is one of those movies that exists for pure entertainment purposes. If you try to make it more than what it is, you’ll be frustrated and disappointed. For someone my age who absolutely adores the principle actors and has been watching them for more years than I should admit to, this movie is just a fun ride. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  • 3 Burbanked // May 6, 2010 at 6:20 am

    I see this movie on AMC every so often and want desperately to like it, but it’s every bit as creaky to sit through as its main characters’ bones during their training montages. That opening flashback sequence where they cast young actors yet dubbed in the older actors’ voices is just a crime against cinematic storytelling. It comes off as unintentional parody and sets the mood for the rest of the movie.

    I’m a huge fan of pretty much everyone involved this movie, but it’s a hard one to like. It strikes me as a semi-good idea that utterly fails to achieve anything.

  • 4 Yojimbo_5 // May 6, 2010 at 9:34 am

    The opening scenes are saved for me by the casting of Toby Stephens as the young Eastwood character, who nails the young Clint’s perpetual sneer. It also has a haunting final image that is wildly improbable, but still haunts in a macho/sentimental way—one I’ve never been able to shake.

  • 5 Joe Valdez // May 6, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Jim: I read in Premiere Magazine that Warner Bros. was after Harrison Ford, but that was before Eastwood got involved. The script would have been improved with two old pilots instead of four. The Garner character doesn’t have much to do and Tommy Lee Jones feels ornery acting opposite anyone but Sissy Spacek or a horse, which is okay in Men In Black if that’s his character, but doesn’t seem right here. I have to mention though that Marcia Gay Harden is luminescent. Thanks for commenting!

    Monica: I think Eastwood would agree with you about this movie, but I’m too much of a movie geek to give it a popcorn pass. There’s no reason you can’t make a crowd pleaser like In the Line of Fire that’s both entertaining and whose pieces actually fit together. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Alan: I find it amusing that Monica, you and me are like the three little bears on this movie. I’m sort of in the middle. There are moments in Space Cowboys that work very well and are so much fun. Something resonates about retirement underneath the whole enterprise that made it a lot more than just another disposable consumer entertainment product for me. I can see why you would be disappointed though. Thanks for commenting!

    Jim: I noticed the prologue was dubbed. Eastwood’s MO as a director would have typically just let Eli Craig and Toby Stephens use their real voices and not fuss over making them sound exactly like Tommy Lee or Clint. Maybe that was the studio’s input? Anyway there was enough going on in that sequence for me not to focus on the voices.

  • 6 Mr. Peel // May 8, 2010 at 11:36 am

    Yeah, Garner doesn’t do much which I always found pretty disappointing but he comes off as less vibrant here than he was in projects from just a few years before so maybe he wasn’t really up to it.

    I always kind of liked this movie actually and looked at it as Eastwood’s EL DORADO, one more roundup for Clint and a few of his buddies. It just ambles along, not in too much of a hurry to go anywhere, and there’s enjoyment to be found in that. Still, it’s not something that I can argue too strongly for.

    Incidentally, if this was his EL DORADO then the one he made right after would have been his RIO LOBO but I had no idea he was going to go on for this long. And I like that one too, even though I’m on shakier ground with defending that movie.

  • 7 Joe Valdez // May 8, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Peter: You must be referring to Blood Work, which until this series I didn’t even have a desire to see. Clint Eastwood’s career has been “finished” more times than Burt Reynolds has had comebacks, but for every Pink Cadillac there was In the Line of Fire. True Crime was a dud but Eastwood answered with Million Dollar Baby. I thought Flags of Our Fathers was a complete mess and then two months later, Letters From Iwo Jima was in theaters. It reminds me of a ball player in a slump; you get out of it by continuing to shoot. You stay in a slump by giving up, like Warren Beatty did.

    I should add that unlike so many of his peers (Beatty, Redford, etc) Clint Eastwood has benefited enormously from his relationship with a single studio — Warner Bros. — and vice versa of course. He’s kept his budgets modest and returns notable, so instead of having to go begging from financier to financier every time he made a commercial or critical dud, Eastwood ensured himself of another project to move forward immediately.

    Thanks so much for commenting.

Leave a Comment