Space Cowboys

Space Cowboys (PG)

EVEN tough guys have to hang up their guns sometime, and in Space Cowboys 70-year-old Clint Eastwood proves he has the humour and good grace to accept the ageing process while hamming up his screen image as the cinema’s oldest hard nut.

Starring in his 19th film as actor and director, Eastwood gathers together a string of old-timers as he and his buddies are blasted into space to prevent an ancient satellite from crashing to Earth.

The unlikely premise casts Eastwood as Colonel Frank Corvin, a 60-something former air ace who should have been America’s first man into space with his Team Daedalus cohorts Jerry O’Neil, Hawk Hawkins and Tank Sullivan (Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones and James Garner, respectively) until they were unceremoniously dropped in 1958.

Corvin has harboured a grudge ever since. Forty years later, as a satellite threatens to plunge to earth, he is reluctantly re-enlisted by NASA because he designed the satellite’s guidance system and none of today’s boffins understand its obsolete technology.

Recognising his position of power, Corvin demands that he be sent up into space to repair the satellite. What’s more, he demands his trio of fellow wrinklies be sent with him, much to NASA’s amazement and chagrin…

Space Cowboys is a silly Boy’s Own adventure with more black holes than the cosmos, but it is an endearing tale told with gusto and gentle humour by Eastwood and Co, who have obvious fun translating every OAP gag in the book onto the screen.

Combining elements of Armageddon, Apollo 13 and middle-aged actioners like The Wild Geese and The Sea Wolves, the preposterous plot carries with it the seeds of truth: after all, if NASA can send 77-year-old John Glen into space, there’s room for Clint and his buddies.

Space Cowboys represents a calmer Clint – a veteran star acknowledging his age and limitations. There are no gun battles with a .44 Magnum, no bar-room brawls or gravelly exhortations to “Make my day”.

Instead there are a quartet of stars exhibiting screen presence for miles and genuine charisma – something many of today’s so-called movie icons will never possess.

The self-deprecating humour doesn’t stop at Eastwood. Sutherland wanders around in glasses with lenses like jam jar bottoms and has trouble with his false teeth. Garner’s attempts at jogging has his jowls flapping like a bloodhound’s. Only Jones, the baby of the bunch – a 50-something playing a late 60-something – plays it relatively straight.

Like The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Geese, much of the film is taken up with the old-timers’ training regime prior to blast-off. Once in space, the movie takes a different turn, slowly metamorphosing into a thriller with more than a passing nod to Apollo 13.

With its devotion to character as opposed to an over-reliance on special effects, Space Cowboys presents a quartet of geriatric heroes in a tale told simply and without unnecessary frills.

Eastwood plays down his iconic image to lead a fine ensemble, with Jones particularly dispensing with his penchant for scene-stealing. The only losers are ‘youngsters’ Loren Dean and Courtney B Vance as the modern astronauts forced to accompany Frank and the boys. Both fade into the background as Eastwood, Sutherland, Garner and Jones grab the glory.

If it proves one thing, Space Cowboys shows Hollywood’s golden oldies still have what it takes. In Clint’s case, the message is loud and clear: there’s life in the old dog yet.

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