space cowboys(2000)
director: clint eastwood
clint eastwood, tommy lee jones, james garner, donald sutherland, marcia gay harden

. The premise of Clint Eastwood’s new movie, Space Cowboys, was apparently considered unbelievable until NASA sent senior citizen, senator and astronaut John Glenn into orbit on the space shuttle. Eastwood’s film, in which he both stars and directs, would be frankly no more believable upon a moment’s consideration, except for his peculiar directorial style and the typically charming performances of his lead actors.

Eastwood, along with Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland, plays a retired air force test pilot who missed out on the space program due to political maneuvering and a nasty temper. A malfunctioning Soviet satellite becomes his excuse to blackmail NASA into sending his aging, quarrelling team of fading ex-flyboys up to repair it. Imagine Armageddon on Rogaine.

While hardly a groundbreaking director, Eastwood has a laconic, understated style that compliments his trademark scowling, squinting onscreen presence, and sends the film along its fantastical plot with an excruciating avoidance of any bombast or pyrotechnic setpieces. His villain -- played by James Cromwell -- is oddly unthreatening, little more than a sinister bureaucrat with a grudge, while most of the scant tension is supposed to be provided by Eastwood’s longstanding feud with his estranged co-pilot, the inevitable, pathological loose cannon, played by Jones.

James Garner’s role is woefully thin -- he’s required to do little more than look baleful, while Donald Sutherland almost steals his scenes as a flaky but shameless ladies’ man. His impeccable timing and obvious relish in his character’s sly outrageousness will be a big hit in Canada, where it will doubtless play as a movie-length “I Am Canadian” ad.