as reviewed by Skylaire Alfvegren
Eight years ago, the Academy voted Clint Eastwood's neo-western Unforgiven as best picture. Dirty Harry nabbed li'l old Oscar for best director, too. Some never forgave the Academy, while others have been surprised that Eastwood’s directorial efforts have since come to resemble Ed Wood’s.
In 1958, the country is on the verge of developing a space program, and Team Daedalus–which consists of two cocky pilots, a navigator and an engineering expert–breaks speed and altitude records before the new, non-military agency NASA takes over the upper atmospheric testing the Air Force had been working on. Daedalus’ dreams of floating in space are extinguished; Neil Armstrong is the first man in space.
Frank (Eastwood), who always had to “push it to the limit” and Hawk (Tommy Lee Jones) were the best dang pilots of the pre-NASA era. Along with navigator Tank (James Garner) and engineer Jerry (Donald Sutherland), Daedalus formulated technology which went up on the first communications satellites in the '60s. Now in the present day, a satellite with their system threatens to crash to Earth. It’s so antiquated, the only way NASA can avoid catastrophe is by sending Team Daedalus up to fix it.
Just as Eastwood had to track down his old partner Morgan Freeman in Unforgiven, Frank must regroup the old team from 40 years ago–and they're all as gentle as kitchens.
A movie about four old farts in astronaut training camp is slightly more compelling than one about the '60s computer programmers brought out of retirement to fix the Y2K bug–and there's lots of Communist intrigue, a terrible secret and a Russian general with a bad mustache.
But Space Cowboys will thrill no one but the Depends n’ dentures crowd. They might not be bothered by Clint’s reptilian squint and wooden directing, the impossible dialogue or the fact that Eastwood (who’s 69) and Jones (who’s 53) are supposed to be the same age.
Hawk gripes about young astronaut Ethan (Loren Dean), an “MIT weenie” who must train alongside the oldsters. (Which is a nod to the truth; Chuck Yeager, who actually broke the sound barrier, was passed over by NASA because he didn’t have a college degree.)
There’s nothing even remotely spacey until the third act. Blocked like a 1950s police serial, the group spends most of the movie in training where, among other things, we get a peak at the quartet’s bare behinds during their physical. You’re only as old as you feel, and the four actors make the most of their script. (Sample line: Frank, squinting: “I don’t need a back up.” Cocky MIT weenie: “You don’t know how much you need a back up.”) Anyone who respects Eastwood as Dirty Harry would do well to avoid Space Cowboys.