Space Cowboys [2000]

This slice of cornball Americana is so much fun you'll be tempted to stand up and salute. Director and costar Clint Eastwood manages to turn what might have been ludicrous into a jubilant tribute to age and experience, and Space Cowboys succeeds as two movies in one--a comedy about retired pilots given one last shot at glory and an Apollo 13-like thriller with all the requisite heroics. With a dream cast of Hollywood vets playing old farts described in tabloids as "The Ripe Stuff," the movie jumps from a 1958 prologue (establishing their lost bid for space travel) to 40-plus years later, when the retired Air Force aces (Eastwood, James Garner, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones) volunteer to rescue a falling Russian satellite that only Eastwood's character can repair. It turns out that Russky bird is a cold war leftover equipped with live nuclear warheads, and Space Cowboys revs up to a rousing climax in which our heroes prove their mettle. But first the comedy: watching these codgers struggle to pass NASA's physical tests is a total hoot, with running gags about wrinkles, dentures, and oysters for sagging libidos. (Sutherland is the scene-stealer, but they're all having a blast.) Once in space, the movie gets down to business, and the visual-effects wizards at Industrial Light and Magic provide stunning vistas from Earth's orbit; a shot looking down at the boot of Italy is particularly beautiful. A subplot involving a weasely NASA administrator (James Cromwell) is rather perfunctory, but it hardly matters. Space Cowboys earns its wings, once again demonstrating Eastwood's comfort with any genre he chooses. --Jeff Shannon

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