Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Space Cowboys:" Would you believe Clint put a man on the moon?

Title: Space Cowboys
Released: 2000
Genre: Sci-fi geezer comedy
Notable for: Clint in space
Coolest thing Clint does: Lands the Space Shuttle with no training

Outward indications say "Space Cowboys" should be one of the worst movies in the Clint Eastwood's library.

A plot that turns Clint into a 70-year-old astronaut and the logic behind nearly all resulting heroics are, in a phrase, profoundly retarded.

Most of the movie is a comedy and Clint is the straight man. The closest thing to a bad guy -- another in the long line of stupid and self-centered bosses endured by Clint's screen characters, but this boss is also basically a traitor to his nation -- is never brought to justice.

Yet somehow Clint makes it work. Andy's four-word review: "Stupid, but it rocks." We have inter-generational agreement on that point.

"Space Cowboys" starts in 1958, when Clint and his buddies are Air Force test pilots who are cut out of the space program and replaced by a chimp.

The story fast-forwards to "present day" (assuming the present day has a Space Shuttle program at NASA, which it no longer does) and highly implausible things happen.

Circumstances compel NASA to look up old-man Clint to ask his help in repairing a falling Russian satellite. Clint agrees, but only on the condition he and three friends from the 1950s all go up in the Space Shuttle.

NASA trains the four geezers to fly the shuttle, control docking systems and walk in space in a month. Really, a month.

Clint rounds up his old pals — Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner — and much joking ensues as they go through training designed for younger men. Old rivalries are renewed, namely with the borderline-traitor boss, and young bucks at NASA fail to show the old guys proper respect.

One of the biggest shocks in cinema history comes when all four old men are shown, during a medical exam, bare-ass naked from behind. Why, Clint?

The first half of the film is comedy where Clint is, at best, third banana. Jones and Sutherland are far funnier.

Clint's best line comes when an arrogant young guy at NASA tries to demand more deference.

"I hold two master's degrees from MIT," the arrogant guy says.

"Maybe you ought to get your money back," Clint says through his clenched lips.

When the shuttle finally goes up, the movie turns into a thriller with Clint clearly in charge.

The Russian satellite is revealed to be a secret nuclear weapon. Both it and the Space Shuttle are damaged in an explosion. Clint and Tommy Lee save the day in a series of impossible maneuvers that, of course, work.

Silly story and all, the special effects were impressive.

Everything ends semi-triumphantly.

Tommy Lee sacrifices his life to guide the wounded satellite to the moon. Really. He ties himself to the satellite and evidently survives a crash landing completely intact, then lies on the lunar surface in his space suit to enjoy the view until his oxygen runs out.

Meanwhile, Clint, the flight engineer, takes control of the Space Shuttle. He lands it without computer guidance systems and without any training as a shuttle pilot. Really.

Clint must have laughed at any critic stupid enough to find a message about redefining maleness or facing mortality. He tried to give the audience a good time, and it worked for us.

We forgive a lot of flaws in a movie if we care enough about the heroes to hope they win. Clint never stops delivering heroes worth rooting for.

Next up: "Blood Work."


  1. Yeah, I saw this one in theaters and I don't remember much about it. Never wanted to see it again.