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Starring: Clint Eastwood, James Garner, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, James Cromwell, William Devane and Blair Brown
Directed by Clint Eastwood. Screenplay by Ken Kaufman and Howard Klausner. Produced by Clint Eastwood and Andrew Lazar. Cinematography by Jack N. Green. Editing by Joel Cox. Music by Lennie Niehaus.
Malpaso Company, Village Roadshow Productions and Mad Chance team with Warner Bros roll out a movie targeted at aging baby boomers or above. The characters are stale as is the movie. Don't waste your time. Particularly if you are of the demographic assumed by the producers. Rated PG-13. Runtime is 130 minutes
Reviewed by Chuck Yeager ; Ret.
Summary and Rating
Space Cowboys sucked. It's a tired rehash of more successful space movies. The characters aren't sweet, cute or loveable. They're grumpy and boring. The storyline is ripped off and predictable. I'm amazed that Eastwood, a pretty decent director who is knowledgeable about what works and what doesn't, was ever involved in this piece of junk. However, I suspect that Dirty Harry was outvoted by a bunch of young marketing execs in endless story conferences. Unlike his character, Frank Corbin, he seems to have given into the "story by committee" that makes up the fabric of Space Cowboys. I would be giving it five dogs, if it weren't for the impressive 3-D modeling and weightlessness scenes toward the end. Don't waste your time on this movie. Four dogs.
The 1950's and the next frontier. The Airforce was given the responsibility to develop a space program for America. Lacking in imagination, not to mention an understanding of basic physics, the plan, as shown at the start of the film consists of trying to fly an airplane into outer space. Excuse me but don't airplanes, even fast ones, depend on some amount of atmosphere to be able to fly? The first five minutes of Space Cowboys highlights the mistaken belief that pilots with big balls and no brains can do anything. Crash, Boom; kiss off another expensive aircraft as well as the Airforce's involvement with the space program. NASA is created and space exploration moves to a more visionary government agency. Obviously some deluded fools with big dreams are left in the dust and this serves as the central motivator in Space Cowboys. Four pilots, played by an all-star group of old fogies: Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner are humiliated by their chimpanzee replacement.
Jump ahead forty years. NASA is the somewhat successful bureaucracy that we now know, launching and managing satellites as well as having reusable launch vehicles that can take-off, orbit and land. And of course, in the spirit of cooperation, NASA is aligned with the Russian Federation's aging space program. But all is not well in the sky. A, no, pardon me, THE ONLY Russian communication satellite has become non-responsive and has moved into a decaying orbit leading to re-entry and destruction in the Earth's atmosphere. The Russians insist that the Americans launch a mission to restore the satellite. The bird is antiquated and as it turns out, its' vintage '60s electronics system was designed by none other than one of our heroes, Frank Corbin, (played by Eastwood). NASA requests assistance from Corbin who in return insists that the only way he will help is if he and his cronies are allowed on the mission to service the satellite. Rather pig-headed by anyone's standard. Whatever. NASA agrees and what follows is Corbin finding and recruiting his pals, going through astronaut training and launching into space with nothing but mishaps plaguing the mission. Even though NASA has sent a group of well-trained youngsters to baby-sit the old farts, it's a victory for the AARP gang who show the young pups and the NASA honchos that they have the lock on skill and courage.
The script destroyed this movie. It consists of an incredible hash of reused storylines ripped off from more successful space adventure movies. The blueprint for most of Space Cowboys seems to come from Phillip Kaufman's wonderful "The Right Stuff". In fact the rip-off is so blatant, Cowboys even makes reference to it in the storyline. Add to this mix, an ending based largely on Armageddeon, the big box office winner of last summer. One of the main differences between The Right Stuff and Space Cowboys is that in Cowboys, our heroes are old. So, all the humor, if you can call it that, is based on senior citizen jokes. Sagging guts, dentures, weak knees, the list can go on and does. The central conflict in the story is age against youth, along with individualism clashing with corporate or government bureaucracy. Both themes, not new to the world, can provide a good story foundation. But important to good story telling as well as movie making is having respect for the intelligence of your audience. Space Cowboys is so heavy-handed in painting the conflict that it's boring and insulting. Youth is portrayed as cocky, egotistical, and downright contemptuous of their older teammates. The young astronauts are at best, a hindrance but more likely, an outright menace to the mission. The old farts are wise, capable, skilled, and most of all, downright courageous. The contrast is too much to give this movie depth and the characters all come off as flat caricatures rather than real people. If they ain't real, you don't identify with them. You lose interest and the movie becomes boring. That was my experience with Space Cowboys.
Is Space Cowboys a movie designed to pull retirees out of bingo halls? Perhaps. The audience who I saw this film with all looked rather elderly-all six of them. Cowboys seems like a movie written by marketing execs armed with demographic data in endless story conferences. I can hear them now. "The baby boomers are aging." "Space stories are box office winners." " People long for the western with real men thumbing their noses at guv'en ment", blah, blah. What results is a film that should go directly to the home market for Movie of The Week programming. You can knit a sweater while watching this movie.
It ain't all bad, however. Two notes of technical merit for those who love the craft of making movies. The black and white cinematography that opens the film is marvelous in its quality. The look is soft and slightly blurred with a slight touch of amber giving you that feel of watching real archival stuff shot and developed on government issued film equipment of the 50s. Think about the quality of LOOK or LIFE magazine with less contrast and you have the opening of Space Cowboys. Also, the last 20 minutes of the film involve servicing the supposed defunct Russian satellite. The 3-D modeling as well as the staging of the weightless scenes are quite amazing and are top cabin craftsmanship. If you are interested in seeing technical excellence achieved through what had to have been lots of computer time, as well as talent hanging endlessly in wire harnesses, Space Cowboys does deliver. This was not a low-budget movie. However, even the extensive effects work seems to work against the overall quality of the film. You get the sense that much of the film's budget (aside from paying hefty fees to the four stars) was put into the "in space" sequence, leaving little money for other parts of the film. What results are some pretty cheesy sets and staging. The guys and gals in 1st year film school make a better Mission Control set than what was used in Cowboys. While it doesn't seem like much, maintaining a certain "look" and quality throughout the film is important in carrying the audience. Space Cowboy's approach was uneven.
Space Cowboys? Don't bother spending a nickel on this one. You may not even want to sit through the commercials when it finally makes its way to your television screen.
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