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New frontier

Eastwood and gang ride 'em high in Space Cowboys

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I don't know how much charm weighs, but in Space Cowboys it's measured by the ton. And, on the great scales o' life, its charm is perfectly counterbalanced by an equal amount of good will. The casting is guaranteed to warm the cockles.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, Space Cowboys may not be much of a teen flick -- I suspect the ages of its stars preclude them from being heroic projections of self for the young -- but for a boomer like myself, it's a guaranteed hoot.

It seems an obsolete Russian satellite is about to fall out of orbit because its guidance system is on the fritz. That's the bad news.

The good news is it was designed by Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood) and, by God, if anybody other than Bruce Willis can save Earth, it's America's favorite two-fisted tamer of the West, Eastwood.

Better yet, he ain't goin' anywhere without his old Air Force buddies, whose friendship dates back to when the world was black and white and Playboy didn't reveal the girls' (they were girls back then) naughty bits.

And this is where folks my age really start smiling. Talk about a pride of old lions on the loose, how about James Garner, Tommie Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland?

Actually, Sutherland's character, Jerry O'Neal, may more accurately be described as a randy old goat, which adds to the shenanigans. Players all, in a scene where these old troopers show America precisely what they're made of, Sutherland's character reveals the extent of his enthusiasm.

Before I get into trouble describing the foursome as lions in winter, Clint, if you read this, you're still one scary hombre. You've got your share of wrinkles, but I wouldn't mess with you.

Garner doesn't get much to do in this flick, but it's sufficient that he's here. He's made the transition from James Rockford to Grandpa without losing his endearing amiable-rascal warmth.

Last but not least, could this be the film wherein Jones gets his first screen kiss? For the life of me I can't recall him as anything but Type A personalities who won't quit till the job's done -- no time for all that kissy-face nonsense.

Has director Eastwood, in this delightfully tight and at times uproariously funny film, seen something in Jones worthy of bringing to the fore?

All I can say is I watched, I pondered and I believed. His efforts were aided by an unassuming but textured performance by his inamorata played by Marcia Gay Harden.

In the reaction shots, and there were many in this action/adventure/mystery, Harden demonstrates a breadth of skills contributing a welcomed emotional dimension to the film. I'm not saying it's an epic, just more than one-dimensional, and a lot of fun.

Aiding Harden in the supporting cast is the always solid James Cromwell (who actually invented warp drive, but that's another story) and, to a lesser extent, William Devane.

I've got to be honest, I get the same vibe from Devane that I get from Jerry Falwell and Newt Gingrich. I don't care what kind of acting chops the man's got, some sort of internal warning light goes off when I perceive insincerity. This denies me the ability to fully accept whatever character he's portraying.

Some animation sequences also strain credulity. In many flicks these days, special effects play a significant role and the folks at Industrial Light and Magic have done a good, and at times exemplary, job in Space Cowboys. Some of the scenes are clearly artificial but others are riveting.

I've seen any number of films directed by Eastwood and this is one of his best. Yeah, it's predictable in many ways, but it contains genuine tension, belly laughs and human warmth.

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