If we needed someone to save the world, wouldn’t Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner, and Donald Sutherland be the guys to do it? Or at least wouldn’t it be fun to watch those guys play “Leisure World astronauts” showing off their right stuff? If your answer is yes, this is your movie.
Four hot-dogging test pilots were thrown out of the space program and replaced by a monkey. Forty years later, they are called back into action when a Russian communications satellite begins to fall down out of the sky. It turns out that the satellite’s guidance system is, mysteriously, none other than the very guidance system set up by former hot dog Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood, who also directed). And it also turns out, mysteriously, that for unrevealed “political” reasons, NASA wants the satellite repaired, not destroyed. Less mysteriously, it also turns out that Corvin won’t fix the thing unless NASA lets him go up and do it himself, accompanied by his old team, despite the fact that “the last time they trained for a space program, people were driving cars with fins on them.”
Eastwood takes his time, giving us a prolonged black and white intro, with the stars’ voices coming from younger actors portraying them circa 1958. Then we have to get acquainted with the problem, NASA has to come to Corvin for help, he has to turn them down, then get his old nemesis to agree to let him get his over-the-hill-gang back together, then they have to go through training and show those young upstart astronauts a thing or two, and then comes ten, nine, eight, seven, and all the rest of it and we’re out in space.
The script is weak and saggy and the plot is predictable. The last scene is weirdly maudlin, even macabre. But the effortless star quality of these guys, so clearly still in their prime, is undimmed. You can’t help loving every wrinkle of those handsome craggy faces, especially if you’re old enough to have a crag or two yourself.
Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and some sexual references. Sutherland’s character is portrayed as a perpetual womanizer and this is supposed to be charming and virile, even when he makes a very vulgar comment on Jay Leno’s show. Characters drink and smoke, punch each other, and engage in other kinds of risky behavior. There is a sad death.
Families who see this movie should discuss our society’s prejudices against older people. It is important for kids to know that many old people are capable, curious, and vigorous, with experiences that are worth learning about and that it is always important to treat them with respect. Ask kids what they think they will feel like when they get to be as old as Corvin and his team. Get them to ask older relatives about some of their experiences. Families will also want to talk about the decision of one crew member to make a great sacrifice to save many others.
Families who like this movie will also like “Apollo 13” and “The Right Stuff.” They may also enjoy some of the earlier movies of this all-star cast, including Eastwood’s “Every Which Way But Loose,” Sutherland’s “M*A*S*H” (for older teens), Jones’ “The Fugitive,” and Garner’s “Support Your Local Sheriff.”