This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.
Title: SPACE COWBOYS
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
When a Russian satellite's orbit begins to decay, only a group of senior citizens have the engineering expertise to repair its systems -- but they don't know the deadly secret hidden on the failing device. The Air Force's Team Daedalus never made it to the moon as its four members dreamed in 1958. But when Soviet communications satellite IKON begins to fail, NASA approaches Skylab designer Frank Corvin for help, and Corvin insists he needs the rest of his old team in space with him to repair the damaged systems.
Though NASA officials expect the four senior citizens to fail their physicals, the PR value of the mission ultimately guarantees them seats on the space shuttle. But once they achieve their goal of getting into space and capturing the satellite, the astronauts discover IKON's deadly secret, which could destroy the United States. With very little assistance from the flabbergasted ground crew, Team Daedalus must find a way to disarm a missile platform and bring their shuttle safely back to Earth.
Best For Ages:
8-12 - Engaging characters and a powerful ending redeem this long, intense film for younger viewers, who may be bored during the first hour and scared during the second.
12 & up - The charismatic older heroes and spectacular visuals will impress teens and adults.
Educational Value: Both Air Force test flights and space shuttle maneuvers are portrayed with a high degree of realism. Scenes of spaceflight training and space exteriors may interest viewers in the work of real astronauts.
Entertainment Value: Like TITANIC, this film switches gears at the halfway point from romance to disaster story. The fast-paced humor of the first hour abruptly dissolves into an engaging space thriller, but the audience has been sitting for so long that the superb visuals and wonderful performances start to drag.
Sex: A sweet romance between an older astronaut and a much younger woman is offset by another astronaut's geriatric womanizing. Prepare to see naked astronaut backsides and explanations of excretion in space.
Violence: Two characters get into a fistfight and end up with black eyes.
Profanity: Government officials labeled "assholes" accused of promoting "bullshit." Quite a bit of casual cursing.
Emotional Intensity: A young man vomits during a barnstorming flight. One character discovers that he has terminal cancer. An astronaut chooses to die in space to save the mission.
Frightening situations: Two astronauts are critically injured in space; a third launches himself aboard a missile platform. The rest face the threat of possible nuclear disaster. A shuttle crisis nearly kills the team upon re-entry.
Questionable Behavior: A pilot flies in a very unsafe manner. Astronauts lie to doctors about their health. Most of the major characters drink alcohol. A NASA official turns out to be a liar and possibly a traitor.
Mature Themes: Facing mortality, dealing with the deaths of loved ones, discovering deception on the part of government officials.
Gender/Racial Insensitivity: Neutral. Though all the astronauts on the older team are male, the film shows a racially and gender-balanced group of trainees.
For more than an hour of SPACE COWBOYS, you think you're watching a sweet, well-acted comedy about a group of older guys out to prove they've got the right stuff. Then, just when you're expecting a heroic climax and quick resolution, the film twists dramatically, becoming a Cold War thriller with impending tragedy. At this point, it's a little hard to take the convoluted politics and long space sequences, but the superb acting of Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones makes SPACE COWBOYS hold together.
Kids old enough to appreciate TITANIC will love this movie. A long opening sequence set in the 1950s precedes the reuniting of Team Daedalus, complete with requisite backstories on each of the members -- one now designs roller coasters, one has become a Baptist minister. The film spends less time showing their NASA workouts than engineer O'Neill's skirt-chasing and pilot Hawkins' growing bond with a NASA executive. To this point, SPACE COWBOYS feels more like a comedy than a science fiction thriller.
But once the cowboys hit space, everything changes. The shady characters turn out to be over-the-top villains, while the just-happy-to-be-here astronauts must become the heroes they never got a chance to be decades before. And heroism doesn't only mean facing dangers no one could have predicted; it also means sacrifice. Adult audience members as well as children often weep before the end of the film.
Teenagers appreciate the dirty minds and toilet humor of the grumpy old men. Though there's some squirming during the more educational portions of the film -- explanations of shuttle technology and the force of gravity -- these lessons become important during the resolution.
Anyone who liked APOLLO 13 and DEEP IMPACT will enjoy SPACE COWBOYS. Younger children might recognize some of the same themes from THE IRON GIANT, but they are likely to be frightened by the specter of imminent death in the latter half of the film.
Children's Television Reviews