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Space Cowboys

tn_spacecowboysI always try to stay up to date on my favorite action movie guys. I accept them as human beings who age and deteriorate like all of us do (not including Prince), and I am very interested in their later works. But alot of people don’t, they turn on their stars if the oxygen ever hits their skin or if their metabolism betrays their bellies. That Australian beer commercial with Steven Seagal that came out recently, I saw comments on other sights it was posted and everybody fixated on his weight, obviously not having seen any of the 26 movies or two seasons of reality TV he’s done in the past 10 years. Same thing with Stallone, every time he comes out with a new one people start gagging about him being old, like it’s the most appalling thing they’ve ever seen. This is just the people reinforcing Hollywood’s obsession with young pretty people, but look at Clint. He’s older, greyer, more withered and hoarse than either of those guys, and I don’t think I’ve heard anybody feelin lucky enough to make fun of him for it.

Why? Well, it doesn’t hurt that his movies are better than theirs, and that he’s very respected as a director (and even composer). But I think it’s also because he doesn’t try to fight the inevitable. He never tried to stay young. No hair transplants, no bodybuilding or growth hormones, no DMX songs on the credits, no Twitter, and more importantly he’s the first person to point out that he’s old. His age is explicitly the subject of UNFORGIVEN, IN THE LINE OF FIRE, BLOODWORK and GRAN TORINO. He’s not gonna pierce one of his ears, man. He had no reservations about starting his Old Man period.

mp_spacecowboysSo it was no surprise when he starred in and directed one of these “funny old guy” movies in the wake of GRUMPY OLD MEN and all those. No Walter Matthau or Jack Lemmon in this one, but you got Clint, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner as geriatric former Air Force hot shots who blackmail their way onto a Space Shuttle mission to rescue a Russian satellite so ancient nobody can understand its guidance system except the old guy who designed it (Clint).

I always avoided this one, but I shouldn’t have. You know, people said it was “GRUMPY OLD MEN in space” or “SPACE CAMP with wrinkles” or “TOUGH GUYS with a space shuttle instead of a train and satellite repair instead of armed robbery,” so I fell for it and thought that’s not really a movie I need to sit down and watch. But I should’ve known that with Clint at the helm it was gonna work.

The broad humor about boners and what not is kept to a minimum. This type of movie can belittle old people with lots of jokes about diapers and shit, and then condescend to them with some cute bullshit at the end that says “hey don’t worry grandpa, you’re all right. Thanks for paying to see our movie.” But this doesn’t feel like that, it seems very sincere in siding with the Space Cowboys’s stubborn old man ways. They’re shown to be correct. Most of the humor is not at their expense. The joke isn’t that they’re out of touch or whatever, it’s that they enjoy using their old school ways as a tool to torture younger people (or James Cromwell) for their own amusement.

Clint brings his usual sense of class (jazz soundtrack, occasional moments of quiet beauty or tension) and Dirty Harry attitude (even as an old retiree who locks himself in the garage by accident he still has the badass presence, obvious exasperation for authority and knack for wise-ass insults intact).

At its center this is about Clint avenging James Cromwell for being a dick to him a long time ago, and making up with Tommy Lee even though they’ve both been dicks to each other. It’s about men who thought they didn’t get a fair shot when they were young getting that shot against all odds when they’re old. By all rights they should’ve been the guys to go up into space, but Cromwell sent a monkey named Marianne instead. Now, whaddya know, the tables have turned. It just took some patience and retirement. And decades of bitterness, I guess.

Years later when this satellite is causing trouble he has to call in Clint but Clint refuses to just consult – he’ll only help if the entire Team Daedalus can do the mission. Cromwell gives in, but he has his group of young people training alongside them “in case” they don’t pass the physical, so there’s competition and shit-talking between the oldsters and the youngsters, and Cromwell doesn’t really intend to let the seniors go into space.

Throughout the movie Clint and the boys keep talking to people who have a dad or a mentor or somebody that they knew back in the day, and then there’s an awkward moment when they find out the person is dead. It only emphasizes how lucky they are to still be around, let alone get to achieve their dream, save the world, etc. But I think there’s a missed opportunity here. I think one of the members of the young team should be a monkey, the son of Marianne, Cromwell’s way of really rubbing their nose in it. But they try to be cool and mature about it so Clint says Marianne, huh? Whatever happened to that old sonofabitch anyway? And the monkey uses his keyboard to say MARIANNE DEAD.

The weirdest touch in the movie is the prologue, where younger actors play the Space Cowboys, but their voices are dubbed by Clint and friends. I don’t know, it’s kinda distracting, like modern Kareem voicing GAME OF DEATH Kareem in BRUCE LEE: A WARRIOR’S JOURNEY, but I didn’t mind it too much. I head about it and always assumed it would be ridiculous, so when I finally saw it it didn’t seem so bad. And the guy playing young Clint (Toby Stephens) has just the right squint and eyebrow dip. I bet that guy feels pretty fuckin cool, and he should. And Huge Ackman was probly pissed he didn’t get to do it, he was the reigning Young Clint Eastwood at that time.

SPACE COWBOYS is nothing great, but it’s a completely enjoyable popcorn type movie and a good weekend afternoon use of one disc in my Clint Eastwood 35 Films box set. I never figured I’d see Clint’s face CGId onto a floating astronaut. They should put that on the MTV logo. Take that, youth.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, December 10th, 2010 at 4:50 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “Space Cowboys”

  1. Good to point out that garage locked-in scene….it’s one of the high points of the film that I still remember after seeing it in theaters all those years ago. Clint’s “well thanks for saving the day” line is perfectly delivered.

  2. I’m glad you liked this. I thought it was an underrated pleasure when I first saw it in the theaters. It works because the old actors are having so much fun, and it shows through. They’re happy to get the band together one more time.

  3. “Take that, youth.” – love it

  4. I liked this movie. And I love the people like Eastwood, who don’t age gracefully but kick ass through it. People like that make it okay to get old.

  5. Good flick, SPACE COWBOYS, and a great title. I enjoyed it, but it’s like a bowl of frosted mini-wheats — tastes good, is vaguely kinda good for you, satisfies but ultimately isn’t enough of a meal to quench your appetite for an entire day.

  6. P.S. I’m hungry, hence the food simile. MRE-heavy diets anger me. I call MREs “space food,” but that’s probably being too kind. The things have a shelf life longer than my expectancy. Hell, the last MRE I ate was probably packed & boxed around the time of my first armpit hair. I should call them “cockroach food,” as they’ll surely last beyond WWIII or IV.

  7. That last line killed me.

  8. The second sentence killed ME. The rest couldn’t quite live up to the promise.

    Saw this one ages ago, can’t remember much about it now. I sorta remember thinking it was ok but there wasn’t that much to it. I also kinda remember wishing that Garner and Sutherland got more of a showing, sort of like “Stand By Me” where the oddball kids are featured most prominently in the first half of the movie then the focus switches to the narrator and his best friend later on. Honestly I can’t say much because it left no real impression on me. (Sorry Clint.) Maybe in thirty years’ time the “old” jokes will appeal more to me than they did then.

  9. Eh, that first line sounded too dismissive. Of course I meant:

    “The rest couldn’t live up to the promise because I was giggling like a loon at the Prince joke.”

  10. See? Told ya it’s a good one. I also love the last shot, which might be the most uplifting sad ending ever!

  11. Vern – SPACE COWBOYS is ok, one of those formulaic Clint “old geezer kicking ass” movies he used to do time to time to pay the bills and allow him to make the left field shit, especially since unless I’m mistaken, this was shortly after MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD & EVIL bombed.

    I watched COWBOYS again on TV last year, and I think I know what my main problem with the movie is: I buy Eastwood, I buy Garner and Sutherland being part of that generation. I mean Garner and Eastwood were western TV stars basically around the same time and Sutherland/Clint of course did KELLY’S HEROES.

    But I just don’t buy Tommy Lee Jones. He’s a fucking baby boomer, Al Gore’s roommate. He’s too young in my book. Of course to be fair, who else in 2000 would have played that part? Plus we must admit, at least this was the more respectable Eastwood/Cromwell project compared to PINK CADILLAC.

    Hell for that matter, COWBOYS was from his last deemed “slump” period (so far at least), ABSOLUTE POWER was pretty fun, but it underperformed. GARDEN flopped, so did TRUE CRIME which I must admit I didn’t care for. Hate to be a dick, but honestly that one at the time felt like it deserved to eat it.

    And this from somebody who enjoyed the fuck out of BLOOD WORK. Funny too, that was before MYSTIC RIVER and his critical resurgence and now he doesn’t have to do geezer-kicking-ass star vehicles to get shit like LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA or CHANGELING produced.

    Mouth – Be careful because if DADT gets repealed in the next week or two, NeoCons and Anne Coulter are warning your food will irreparably get gayer. Because the British and Israelis can handle it, but OH NO not America. We don’t have the strength.

  12. “Gayer” food sounds like a sure improvement on this mush. It sounds fab-u-lous (*snaps fingers 3 times in syllabic synchronization*)!

    Incidentally, I immediately discredit any program or publication that features or promotes the words of Ann Coulter. She’s one of those people from whom I would as soon take political advice as I would from my tablecloth. She’s malicious, a backward thinker, one of those things that makes me ashamed of my neighbors, but in order for me to maintain my sanity when I see her book sales figures, I make her a nonthing. She belongs in the margins, or in space where no one can hear her babble.

  13. Did I stumble upon a decent idea, deporting undesirables to the distant depths of outer space? Gwai Lo, what’s the script angle on this? I got the alliteration. You figure out how this isn’t a ripoff of Alien 3 or that Simpsons Halloween episode where a spaceship is taking Homer, Bart, & T

  14. Did I stumble upon a decent idea, deporting undesirables to the distant depths of outer space? Gwai Lo, what’s the script angle on this? I got the alliteration and the political satire. You figure out how this isn’t a ripoff of Alien 3 or that Simpsons Halloween episode where a spaceship is taking Homer, Bart, & Tom Arnold to the sun.

  15. I can MacGuyver a wifi hotspot with nothing but a Soviet typewriter, the metal plate in my teammate’s head, and a supersecret USAF satellite signal, but I can’t figure out the bug of the ole double post. Shame.

  16. There’s little I hate more than the “hes 2 old he shoud stop now & get a diper lolz” argument. It’s like they think old people are another species that have nothing to do with them. I can’t wait until these assholes get old and a bunch of even more unintelligible whippersnappers start telling them what they can’t do.

    As for SPACE COWBOYS, I pretty much only remember the very beginning and very end, but they made an impression. And I also was distracted by the 20-year age difference between Tommy Lee Jones and his teammates. Did they even try to call Robert Duvall?

  17. I remember that Dennis Hopper was supposed to play the Tommy Lee Jones part, but he backed out. (I guess schedule problems, because we all know that Dennis Hopper never said no to any movie.)

  18. I heard something similar, that after Hopper dropped out at the last minute they were frantically searching for replacements, and that Jones had originally been cast and another role and finally they had to ask him to switch over to play one of the astronauts because they just couldn’t find any other actors of Clint’s generation who could or would take the role. Supposedly Harry Dean Stanton and Roy Scheider and both turned it down.

    Anyhow, I loved this too–I’ve always suspected that the opening, black and white jet-planes in the desert sequence is Clint’s tribute to one of his mentors and the guy who basically gave him his start as an actor, the great Jack Arnold–specifically Clint’s role as the jet pilot in TARANTULA.

    And the actress from Altered States, who plays the nurse, told me that Clint talked the guys into doing the exam scene naked for real, and that Clint Eastwood’s full frontal is quit an impressive sight.

  19. I’m sure Mr. Eastwood had a hair transplant at somome point. I mean, his hairline was receding and then it stopped suddenly. That’s not natural.

  20. Isn’t the last shot of this [SPOILER] a “feelgood” shot of a corpse on the moon accompanied by some good old-fashioned rock’n’roll? Perverse!

    Fun film. A good fourth “cowboy” would have been Bronson, though given his health I believe that would have already been an impossibility.

  21. Fuck, Roy Scheider turned it down? That would have been perfect! I always felt like his obvious greatness was overlooked towards the end of his career.

  22. I’m reminded of what Harrison Ford said on playing Indy again in Crystal Skull:
    ‘Yeah, I’ve heard it. ”Aaaaw, he’s older.” Well shit, yes. And by the way? So are you. So…are…you! Take a look in the fucking mirror!’

  23. No love for the Donald?

    I enjoyed the movie but I could have stood a LOT more of the Donald. He hardly ever gets to any “big” movies where he isn’t phoning it in as a cheezy villain. His character in this is basically a parody of his own ’70s persona. Would have like to see more scenes and dialogue from his guy, but as it is I kind of like the way he’s mainly just this smirking who-gives-a-fuck PRESENCE in the background of every scene more than he is a character.

  24. Stu – yeah totally. I always thought mocking people for being old was inherently short-sighted. What, did it not occur to you that you will be the same age as the person you are mocking one day? Will you expect to be mocked when you are? Do you think you will deserve being mocked for daring to be so old? Or did you just not plan on living that long?

  25. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but at the time Space Cowboys came out some newspaper claimed that both Jack Nicholson and Sean Connery had been attached to play (I guess) the Garner and Tommy Lee roles. That Expendables like situation would have been something…

  26. I saw SPACE COWBOYS, man, probably ten years ago on VHS I think, I can’t remember much about it save for that guy puking in the plane and the ending with Fly Me To The Moon (which I can’t hear that song without thinking of Neon Genesis Evangelion now), it sounds like a movie ripe for re-watching, it’s on blu ray isn’t it?

    and I hold a special place for MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD & EVIL, seeing as how I live an hour away from Savannah Georgia and love to visit it, I’ve even been to that guy’s mansion

  27. Sutherland would have made for an awesome villain against Clint back in the day, and who knows he still might. I know he’s done other villainous roles but for some reason his bit part in BACKDRAFT stands out for me.

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