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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Breaking the Age Barrier
by Betty Jo Tucker

Four daring test pilots from yesteryear outshine todayís brightest astronaut stars in Space Cowboys, a sci-fi action thriller starring Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner. Although itís sad to see oneís favorite movie heroes age right before your eyes, this involving film proves why these four senior citizens have maintained successful acting careers for so long.

Eastwood, whose craggy face still exudes that Dirty Harry macho, plays Frank Corvin, former leader of Team Daedalus, a group of pilots who trained to be the first in outer space. Neither he nor the rest of his team took it well when they were replaced by a chimp in 1958. Frank also designed the guidance system for a space satellite that is now malfunctioning. Because NASAís technicians know nothing about this "ancient" guidance device, Frank is drawn back into the space program to fix it. The only way to do this, he insists, is by traveling to the satellite and repairing it there.

Refusing to take on this assignment unless his Daedalus teammates are involved, Frank coaxes each one to come along. He finds Hawk (Jones), a rambunctious old flyboy, at a small airport in Arizona. Heís now a crop duster and sometime stunt pilot. Projecting a sarcastic devil-may-care attitude, Jones (The Fugitive) makes Hawk one of the filmís most intriguing characters. Noted for putting his foot in his mouth, he cracks disparaging jokes to people about their loved ones, then learns the individuals heís talking about are deceased.

After one of these embarrassing conversations, he tells Frank, "Have you noticed that everyone seems to be dead lately?" In spite of Hawkís flippant attitude, NASA Mission Director Sara Holland (Marcia Gay Harden) takes special interest in him. She soon discovers heís still grieving over the recent death of his wife.

Frank has little trouble persuading Jerry (Sutherland) to rejoin the team. Jerry gets his thrills now by designing and testing roller coasters --- and by pleasing women of all ages. Portraying an elderly Don Juan, Sutherland (Instinct) clearly relishes this role. When Team Daedalus appears on televisionís Tonight Show, Jay Leno refers to Jerry as "the babe magnet" of the group --- and Sutherlandís broad smile at this remark seems completely genuine.

Tank (Garner), the wittiest member of Frankís team, has a surprising new vocation. Heís a minister, but one with difficulty keeping the congregationís attention unless talking about flying. Frank recruits Tank by explaining, "Youíll have material for three or four more sermons." Garner (My Fellow Americans) has lost none of his great comic timing with age. Amusing as ever, he delivers the filmís funniest lines. At the beginning of the space launch, his character announces, "Iím going to recite the Shepardís prayer now. Alan Shepard, that is. Dear Lord, please help us not to screw up!"

Becoming a team again is not easy for this over-the-hill gang. They must deal with past differences, work with a treacherous former boss (James Cromwell), undergo grueling physical preparation activities, and face taunting by the much younger NASA astronauts. But they give as good as they get. After receiving cans of Ensure to drink with their lunch, they send jars of Gerberís baby food to the jokesters. When Ethan (Loren Dean), the competitive astronaut assigned to help Frank, complains about not understanding the old guidance system in spite of his two masters degrees, Frank says, "Maybe you ought to get your money back."

Eastwood also served as director of Space Cowboys. In this capacity, he wisely focused on character and human relationships instead of on high-tech gimmickry. Even so, the filmís outer space scenes depicting repair of a gigantic satellite hiding a dangerous secret are extremely well-done. Visually impressive, the clunky, aged satellite contrasts dramatically with the sleek, modern spacecraft of the crew sent to save it. Floating in space against a silvery moon backdrop, the white-suited astronauts look small and insignificant as they perform their daring feats, reminding us of the immensity of the universe. And then, like a bad dessert after a delicious meal, the movieís last scene almost spoils everything. To the tune of "Fly Me to the Moon," a final panning shot of the moonís surface reveals something we donít want or need to see.

(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG-13" for language.)


                                                                                                                                                                               
 
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