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You could line up the jokes from here to the moon. I’ll submit just one. Space Cowboys is Armageddon on Geritol. The four members of Air Force Team Daedalus were slated to comprise the first US "outer atmosphere exploration" mission in 1958. Hit-and-miss success in test runs and a bad track record for keeping planes intact contributed to their being sidelined in favor of a "new civilian operation," namely, NASA. Forty years later, Team Daedalus is called back together (amid myriad "old-timer" quips) to perform a critical repair on Ikon, a Russian satellite with antiquated technology and a rapidly decaying orbit. Around this point the plot turns quite tenuously, as it is beyond belief that a shuttle crew would be sent into space with as little information about the object of their repair efforts as has Team Daedalus. Plot weaknesses notwithstanding, Frank, Hawk, Jerry and Tank complete the mission with gusto, even though the communications satellite turns out to be more than they bargained for.
positive elements: The "old guys" take their aging well and are, in fact, the originators of many of the good-natured jokes about their age. In the end, they prove that they’re still aware and capable, and that the wisdom of years is not to be discounted. Frank learns, after forty years of getting it wrong, to be a team player. A longstanding grudge is righted. Young astronauts and engineers learn that technology is not the answer to every crisis situation. Experience and common sense are valued over degrees and titles. Gerson learns that trying to cover up a past mistake eventually brings consequences. Self-sacrifice is seen as the only answer to an otherwise hopeless situation.
spiritual content: Since leaving the Air Force, Tank has become a country church pastor. At first it seems that his relationship with God is as dry as his sermons (Frank finds him in the middle of one at his small church). Tank’s response when Frank asks him to rejoin Team Daedalus is, "I’m receiving a word from on high. The word is, ‘Why the he-- not?’" Through the rest of the film, however, Tank is portrayed in a positive (albeit somewhat flat) light. Before the shuttle lifts off with Team Daedalus inside, Frank respectfully asks Tank to pray.
sexual content: No shown or even implied sex. But Jerry is and always has been a ladies’ man. The opening sequence shows him with a 1958 Playboy (very tame by today’s standards, but it’s still Playboy). In a positive display of romance, Frank takes advantage of being accidentally locked in a dark garage and uses it as an opportunity to be affectionate with his wife. Rear male nudity is shown as the guys receive their NASA physicals, complete with all the innuendo and embarrassment of having a female doctor as the attending physician.
violent content: Frank and Hawk take their longstanding disagreement outside to "settle it" with a schoolboy fight. A couple of black eyes later, the two nonchalantly return to work. A prideful decision by one crew member causes explosions that injure himself and another man.
crude or profane language: Persistent mild profanity along with about 20 s-words easily earn this film its PG-13 rating.
drug and alcohol content: Frank drinks a beer while studying satellite guidance system plans to solve the Ikon problem. During a night off from mission training, the guys hit the bar, though no one becomes inebriated.
other negative elements: Blackmail is a significant plot-driver. Gerson and Frank have had it in for each other since Gerson pulled Team Daedalus off the space project 40 years previously. Now Frank knows that he (as Skylab’s guidance system designer) is the only one who can fix Ikon, and he holds it over Gerson’s head to buy himself a ticket into space. Also, in the “gross-out” category, be warned: a teenaged boy loses his lunch (in disgustingly slow motion) when Hawk takes him for a wild plane ride.
conclusion: While Space Cowboys tenaciously reminds younger generations that “gray-beards” often have more to offer than we give them credit for, I feel I need to risk spoiling a bit of the plot to bring up one final important point. Hawk, who is dying of pancreatic cancer, gives his life to save the rest of the team and possibly the earth. But his sacrificial death isn’t as clear-cut as it seems. If moviegoers stop to think about it at all, it could lead to either of two conclusions: a) people with great physical weaknesses or disabilities can still be heroes, or b) it’s okay that he died, because his life was already fading anyway. I wouldn’t say that the latter conclusion is the one that director Clint Eastwood intended to inspire, but given current cultural programming, it’s easy to come away with that feeling. And that kind of thinking has serious implications for how we regard the sanctity of life. Still, it’s the perpetual conversational swearing that keeps this mission on the ground for families.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
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Clint Eastwood as Frank Corvin; Tommy Lee Jones as Hawk Hawkins; Donald Sutherland as Jerry O’Neil; James Garner as Tank Sullivan; James Cromwell as Bob Gerson