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With: Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, James Garner, James Cromwell, Marcia Gay Harden, William Devane
Written by: Ken Kaufman, Howard Klausner
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language
Running Time: 130
Date: 08/01/2000

Space Cowboys (2000)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Rocket Science

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

I can see it now, wearing his poncho and hat and smoking those pencil-cigars, Clint Eastwood rides into Summer and growls, "lemme show you how it's done." Because Eastwood's Space Cowboys is the first Summer film in over two months that we can really sink our teeth into.

In Space Cowboys, four old and irreverent pilots get a second chance to go into outer space when a Soviet Satellite containing 1950's American technology malfunctions and threatens to fall to earth. The astronauts are played by Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner (playing a character named "Tank", a possible riff on his horrible 1984 movie of the same name), all in fine form, looking relaxed and enjoying themselves. James Cromwell plays the cranky by-the-book superior who doesn't hide his disdain for the team. And Marcia Gay Harden co-stars as a brief love interest for Jones. It's one of those movies where we can kind of picture how it's all going to play out before we even buy our ticket. But Eastwood, over the past dozen years, has grown into a world-class director and he knows how to handle a movie.

Space Cowboys throws in the usual "older is better" jokes, and riffs on the old guys having to train, run, and lift weights, but Eastwood makes the gags work and keeps them short. The bulk of the movie deals with the mission itself. Once the astronauts walk onto the launching pad and the shuttle takes off, the movie is a real treat. These four old guys who have seen and done it all, are suddenly wide-eyed, looking out the window at the sights. But once their mission gets going, they find that they have more to do than a simple repair job.

Eastwood gives Space Cowboys the perfect pacing. It's not as slow and methodical as, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or The Right Stuff (1983), but it's not in-your-face like Armageddon (1998). Somehow, he's created a movie that has its cake and eats it too. It wants to get the details of the mission right, but it wants to move fast enough to give us a rollercoaster ride. It does both.

But perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Space Cowboys is the fact that it celebrates old age and thumbs its nose at youth. Most movies kowtow to youth and bend over backwards to be cool and trendy so that the teenage market with lots of disposable income will spend it at the movies. I'd rather watch Eastwood and Jones any day than an army of fresh-faced Dawson's Creek rejects that I can't tell apart from one another. Eastwood and Jones have faces for movies. They've earned every line and crag, and they emit personality without even speaking.

Eastwood re-invented himself as a director a decade ago simply by slowing himself down. Gone are the no-brainer action flicks and in their place is brilliant, poetic fare like Bird (1988), Unforgiven (1992), A Perfect World (1993), and The Bridges of Madison County (1995). Now that Stanley Kubrick is gone Eastwood is Warner Brothers' only golden child. With them, he has the freedom to do anything he likes and the wisdom and talent to pull it off. Space Cowboys is a little more lightweight than it could have been (it leaves a few story threads hanging), but that doesn't take away from its sheer quality and good heart.

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