Space Cowboys

SPACE COWBOYS, a fanciful adventure, another sally into the “geezers show how it’s done” crowd, with aging (or aged) actors celebrating/kidding/hanging on to their images as old pros having a last hurrah mission. This roundup, per the title, takes place off-planet. It’s an entertaining 130 minutes, thanks to the quite agreeable cast and some excellent special effects. Clint Eastwood directs his 23rd feature film, once again starring, teamed up with Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner.

The script written by Ken Kaufman and Howard Klausner begins in 1958, with a quartet of hot shot Air Force pilots hoping to find glory in the emergent space program. To no avail. Booting the plot up the present day, they’re enlisted by a desperate NASA to quick-retrain and blast skyward for the emergency rescue of a Russian satellite, whose adapted operating system came from one originally designed by Clint’s character. He insists his old buddies go along (backed by a pair of young astronauts), but the mission turns extra-precarious when they find out what the damaged spacecraft has as cargo.

Expected jokes about age are easily finessed by the pros: Garner at 71, Eastwood, 69, Sutherland, 64, Jones a relative kid at 53. If you ditch mulling plausibility and go with the amiable flow, the make-believe works smoothly. Marcia Gay Harden does her typical ace job heading the fine supporting cast. The special effects are impressive; the finale earns a smile. *

$65,000,000 expended returned a worldwide gross of $128,900,000 and ranked 25th in the States among the releases of 2000. An Oscar nomination went for Sound Editing. Able backup from James Cromwell, William Devane, Loren Dean, Rade Šerbedžija, Courtney Vance, Blair Brown, Barbara Babcock, Toby Stephens, Jay Leno, Jon Hamm (feature debut).

* Dogged trouper Garner is visibly having a harder time: after the production wrapped, he had both knees replaced.

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