Yet another film which had escaped my attention until now, this is a present-day (actually, slightly historical since it includes an operational Space Shuttle) comedy drama concerning an emergency space mission by four elderly former test pilots.
The film starts in 1958 with four USAF officers who are part of a rocket-plane test programme leading up to the first manned space flight. However, they are denied the chance to get into space. Move on to the present day, when an old Russian satellite is in danger of re-entering the atmosphere and crashing. For political reasons it is considered imperative to prevent this, but the satellite's navigation system is malfunctioning and needs repair. It turns out that this was copied from a US system designed by Frank Corvin (played by Clint Eastwood, who also directed and produced the film), who happens to be one of the now retired USAF officers. The system is so old that only Corvin knows how to repair it, so he assembles the other members of his old team - Hawk Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones), Jerry O'Neill (Donald Sutherland) and Tank Sullivan (James Garner) - to achieve at last their dream of getting into space.
On the way there is much gentle humour concerning the problems of the ancient astronauts, internal battles among themselves and with an unwilling NASA, and a major and unwelcome surprise when they eventually reach the satellite.
This isn't the sort of film I would normally make a point of watching since despite involving space travel there is very little SF in it – it might best be described as a techno-thriller with comedy overtones. In a way, it made me think of Apollo 13, which I have never seen since I regard it as more of a dramatised documentary, a category which doesn't interest me. Space Cowboys is formulaic and predictable, offering nothing new, but it is serviceable entertainment that pushes enough of the right buttons to be worth viewing.