When a Russian satellite orbiting the Earth starts to veer off course. It seems like the guidance system in the satellite is of American origin. It's important to try and fix it before it comes into the atmosphere. The NASA man, Bob Gerson tries to find out who designed it and discovers that it was designed by Frank Colvin, an Air Force pilot who 40 years ago was part of the team who was originally suppose to go to space but when NASA was formed and Gerson's influence they were dropped. Gerson asks Frank to help but Frank still holds a grudge. But after some prodding he agrees but only if he and his team can go there so he can fix it. Gerson reluctantly agrees so Frank recruits his former team members, Tank Sullica, Jerry O'Neill and Hawk Hawkins to join him. After some strenuous tests, they're cleared. And they go up with two other astronauts and check out the satellite and discover that they weren't told the whole truth. Written by
Yea right, we have John Glenn to thank for this one.
Space Cowboys builds its humor around a quartet of aged characters who seize their first and last opportunity to fulfill their lifelong goal of going into space. Space Cowboys satirizes the traditionally romanticized conception of the young hero by portraying its characters as sagacious --yet imperfect-- old men.
Space Cowboys revisits its embittered protagonist, the retired Air Force test pilot Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood), forty years after a humiliating episode where he is replaced by a monkey for a 1958 NASA mission to space. Unexpectedly, Frank is summoned by ex-boss and NASA official Bob Gerson (James Cromwell) to fix a Russian communications satellite that is soon to crash, and that contains the obsolete guidance system that he and his colleagues designed for the earlier satellite, Skylab. Realizing he is the only one who can fix the system, Frank coerces the desperate Bob into rehiring his old team: pilot Hawk Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones), structural engineer Jerry O'Neil (Donald Sutherland), and navigator Tank Sullivan (James Garner) --all seemingly unlikely candidates for the task at hand. Gaining the trust of NASA Engineer Sara Holland (Marcia Gay Harden) and the mistrust of flight director Eugene Davis (William Devane), the reunited "Team Daedalus" face the biggest mission of their lives.
Space Cowboys, which benefits from the performances of four seasoned actors, successfully establishes its four main characters as the source for all its comedy. Space Cowboys' initial introduction of its protagonist (in the brief black and white sequence which includes the humiliating incident with the monkey), offers a convenient setup which allows the ellipsis of forty years to hyperbolize the four characters' emotional states and to justify their subsequent actions. Furthermore, this initial sequence, which also depicts the four characters as audacious US Air Force pilots, establishes itself as a point of reference against which the present inconsequential lives of Frank, Hawk, Jerry and Tank will be contrasted.
Space Cowboys subtly and effectively creates an analogy between the characters and the troublesome "guidance system": while the men's present occupations are portrayed as rather useless, the guidance system's design is described as old and obsolete, yet neither the men nor the system are entirely expendable. (This suggested duality of man/system is emphasized by Frank's ironic statement: "...it wasn't designed for this duration.") While Space Cowboys draws its humor from the characters' efforts to revert to their prior occupation and regain importance, the second part of the film --the mission-- serves a dramatic purpose, where the characters' true mission is to disprove the others' belief that they are outdated and replaceable. Narratively, Space Cowboys' space sequence does little more than simply prolong the characters' task of proving themselves, yet visually, it offers eye-catching special effects and set design.
Nevertheless, Space Cowboys succeeds more as a comedy that deconstructs its heroes than as a drama that exalts their heroism.
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