Aug. 16, 2000
Or, “Grumpy Old Astronauts”
As I look back at the multitude
of movies Clint Eastwood has made over the past 40-odd years, whats
surprising is not that he made a dull, stupid, insipid, illogical picture
like Space Cowboys, its that he ever rose to the level
of making an honestly great film like Unforgiven.
Space Cowboys fits easily into Eastwoods ouvre
somewhere below Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which
Way You Can, which at least got a few laughs out of an orangutan
blowing raspberries and Ruth Gordon swearing. The highlight of
this film is Donald Sutherland losing his dentures, which is in both
the commercial and the trailer. For me, The Eiger Sanction,
The Rookie, Pink Cadillac and Firefox
fall below that, which is the very bottom of Clints career.
Whats most distressing
to me about Space Cowboys is that it is so poorly written
and Clint the producer didnt know enough about storytelling at
this late date in his career to have the writers fix it. Instead
of any simple, rational character motivations, we are constantly tossed
back into the mind-deadening doldrums of illogical plot twists.
Were all willing to suspend our communal disbelief and give them
that these old guys would end up on a space mission, but thats
as far as well go because its pretty far-fetched.
Every illogical plot turn that is thrown at us thereafter -- were
helping the Russians bring back a communication satellite that contains
the same guidance system as the SpaceLab (designed by Clint), but was
stolen during the Cold War, but it isnt a communication satellite
anyway, its got nuclear rockets on board (oh, surprise, surprise)
and has to be shot off into space, but uh-oh, Tommy Lee Jones has pancreatic
cancer and, wait a minute, is this a comedy? It sure doesnt
have many laughs if it is.
This is one of those films
where you go out for coffee afterward and try to re-write the script
so that it makes some slight lick of sense. For instance, what
if Tommy Lee Jones was almost the astronaut to walk on the moon, but
lost it, thus he ends up there; if you bother making James Garner a
Baptist minister, why not give him a crisis of faith? And why
did he become a minister? Did something as a pilot scare him?
And why not make one of the two utterly extraneous younger astronauts
onboard a cute chick so you can keep playing the Donald Sutherland babe
magnet shtick? The entire film is all a series of missed opportunities.
And is it just me or is Tommy
Lee Jones significantly younger than the rest of those guys? Like
solidly ten years younger anyway. Hes got to be nearly twenty
years younger than James Garner (lets check, shall we? . . . James
Garner was born in 1928 and Tommy Lee Jones was born in 1946 -- eighteen
years -- see, I was close).
Also, Clint as director does
a very odd thing at the beginning that I found both distracting and
a little disturbing. It begins in black & white in 1958 with
all of the characters being played by younger, sort of look-alike, actors,
but with Clint Eastwood, James Garner and all the other old guys
voices dubbed in on top of them. It took Clint seventy years to
get his voice that raspy and hearing it emanating from a young man is
And another thing, whats
up with William Devanes face and why is he doing such odd facial
contortions the whole film? He reminded me of a dog with a mouthful
of peanut butter.
So, I saw the Space
Cowboys with my friend Jane, who produced my last two movies.
We were talking on the phone today and as she was expressing her disappointment
in the film she said, I hope we dont make a movie
I replied, We wont
have that much money so we cant make a movie that
bad. It takes at least 50 million dollars to make a film that
And thats the state
of affairs these days -- if the film cost more than 50 million dollars
it will certainly suck. If it cost more than that it will suck