Picks and Pans Review: Space Cowboys

updated 08/14/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/14/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner, Donald Sutherland, Courtney B. Vance, Loren Dean

Featured attraction

In space, where no one can hear you scream, Clint Eastwood knows how to make himself heard—even if his voice these days is no louder than steam hissing from a radiator. There's something absurd yet impressive about the sight of this lean, tight-lipped icon, now 70, suited up as an astronaut and floating by with the stars as backdrop. Peering out through his helmet, does he show awe? Fear? No, it's the classic Clint squint, as focused as a laser. He's mulling over his next move while his patience, like a shuttle countdown, ticks toward zero.

Eastwood produced, directed and stars in this leisurely, touching space epic about four old coots sent up to repair a crippled Russian satellite. (The others are Jones, Sutherland and Garner.) Has there ever been a leisurely, touching space epic—let alone one with senior-citizen heroes?

Back in the '50s, the guys were cream-of-the-crop Air Force pilots who thought they were destined to become astronauts. When the space program moved to the newly formed NASA, they found themselves stranded—and their careers earth-bound. Now, as the satellite goes on the blink, Eastwood, who went on to become an engineer, is the only man who knows how to fix it. (It's based on his design.) He tells NASA he wants to do the job himself, along with the rest of his gang. Backed up by two younger astronauts (Vance and Dean), they go through training, dodge the machinations of a NASA bigwig (James Cromwell) and confront a major health crisis before finally blasting off.

The story, even the do-or-die space segments, moves forward with no more urgency than a toy boat launched across a pond. In Clint's cosmos, everyone's energy level ratchets down a few notches. His costars—particularly Sutherland as the randiest of the bunch—have a great time relaxing in their roles and showing off their wrinkles. They could just as easily be having drinks at the clubhouse after a round of golf. That's the movie's joke and its charm. They may be slowed by age, but they don't need warp speed. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Ride 'em, cowboys

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