Here are two entirely different films stapled together by Clint Eastwood to thrill gentlemen of slow minds and great age. Space Cowboys begins in the blue-tinted past with weirdly dubbed young actors (including subsequently famous posho Toby Stephens dubbed by Le Eastwood in scenes of genuine oddness) ploughing the skies in jets and doing their damnedest to get into space. Then crashing. The Daedalus team fails…what might their dreams remain…?
Look. A lot of these films can’t decide whether the old are decrepit caricatures to be laughed at, with or through a veil of pity. Or whether they’re real humans enduring the vicissitudes of long lives, old or lost loves, fading health and foot long scrota. Space Cowboys goes for the caricatures, but, damn me if it doesn’t turn into something new with a space adventure and surprises. But that’s hour 2.
Hour 1 picks up when those blue-tinted boys are 100 years old and making their way in life outside NASA. The Daedalus boys have become a priest (James Garner – here looking much-withered since Jim Rockford but still with fourteen years in him); an exhausting lech (Donald Sutherland and his horrifying ponytail passing successfully sleazy asides throughout), a pilot (Tommy Lee Jones doing angry, chirpy and flirty. Really. He grins and goes for puckish in places. It’s mesmerizing) and an ancient grouch with a distractingly high waistline on his unpleasantly beige trousers (Eastwood tweaks his performance for comedy by snarling a little bit less). The crew get back together because a Russian communications satellite is gliding glacially – much like the plot – to Earth. And Eastwood’s navigation system is in it (they keep asking why: it’s been stolen, fuckwits!). So Eastwood says he’ll only help if the others come along into space. Cos that was their dream.
The old farts are funny. It’s more laugh at than laugh with, which made old Jack grip the seat harder, but the character acting is splendid fun. They go through the expected medical scenes as they can’t hit space without being fit. There are bare, saggy old-men arses on display for the ladies (cough), lies and hiding of their weaknesses, comedy-jogging through the haze of illogic. So, fun.
They’re old stars all, and know what they’re doing. Garner does the wheezy gags, Eastwood the random bursts of anger and stressed leadership, Sutherland the unrelenting #metoo moments and Jones. Well, he gets an unbelievably quick romance from Marcia Gay Harden (a NASA tech with a terrifying fringe and 13 year age gap)…and a moment of sadness. He has cancer – inoperable – but, you know, male hero fantasies come with no pain, a girl and a space flight. Oh yes.
And then onto a completely different film. The old farts jump into their rocket and bomb off into space. There are moments of Apollo 13 in the clicking of switches, floating through hatches and space…although it is a bit strange. We may just be at the point where special effects from twenty years ago look okay while everything (not least Eastwood’s nipple-high trews) have dated. The old men in these space scenes look like they’ve been grafted onto someone else’s story, but there’s genuine tension and more moments of character-fun. And a terrific – wildly impossible – last shot..
Old Jack liked both halves of Space Cowboys. There’s a touch of weariness from the laugh-at-the-old stuff, but the stars do such a robust job that snarking seems discourteous. The second half is actiony, eye-catching and works well on its own, but is so far into improbable it tries to make us believe a gum-chewing William Devane is a mission director and not an ageing beach-bum. James Cromwell is pleasingly evil, mind.
You’ll have to pay: iTunes, Amazon or one of those supermarket bins…you’ll find it entertaining enough if a bit pedestrian.