Home My Library Authors News and Reviews Forums Links
  ? Help
Welcome to ElectricStory.com® Search by: 
Other categories:

Exclusive Movie Reviews
by Lucius Shepard

"Crimea River"
by Howard Waldrop

"Things I've Found"
by Mark Rose

by Bob Kruger

"From Here You
Can See the

by Richard Wadholm

"They're Made
Out of Meat"

by Terry Bisson

"A Dry, Quiet War"
by Tony Daniel

"The Night of White Bhairab"
by Lucius Shepard

All Movie Reviews

All Movie Reviews

Space Republicans
by Lucius Shepard
October 2000

Having recently listened to George W. Bush woodle-ing the nation from Philadelphia, my ears ringing with resounding generalities and guaranteed pre-broken promises, I asked myself, what fine cinematic product could be a more perfect complement to that feast of Gerber's Baby Food philosophy than Clint Eastwood's latest film, Space Cowboys? And thus it was, my fellow Americans, that I found myself standing outside the Galaxy Cinema shortly before noon on Friday last, purely convinced that this paen to the "Greatest Generation" and the geriatric institution of NASA would give glorious embodiment to the GOP's professed desire to Renew America's Promise and thereby make us all better stronger wiser richer and morally straight by ridding the free world of the Democratic Satan who had for so long perverted our children, shamed our god, and levied a multitude of oppressive taxes upon our freedom-loving oil and tobacco billionaires. Joining me by the entrance to the Galaxy on this sunny pre-apocalyptic day were a babble of senior citizens, a sprightly bunch judging by their stylish activewear. They clearly had been buoyed by Boy George's vow to eliminate the Death Tax and not even the threat of contention, offered by a spry seventy-something ex-damsel in pink slacks and matching blouse, could disturb their mood.

—Where's the line?, asked Mrs. Pink, and when informed there was no official line per se, the ticket booth not yet having opened, she replied with a significant degree of querulousness and outrage that she wished there was a line.

Immediately upon her comment, as is the tradition in our great land, a genial discussion began amongst those gathered concerning the rightness and efficacy of lines, the effects of their absence, the inabilty of the young to form proper ones, and—a dissenting voice—the virtues of milling about. All the while, several gentlemen were engaged in maneuvering their womenfolks into appropriate positions so that the semblance of a line—not, sadly, a formally sanctioned line such as might have been hoped for—was created. Once this had been achieved, the discourse continued. Many facets of the topic were touched upon, notably an elaboration of various lines previously stood in by members of the group, lines remarkable for their length, their unmoving-ness, their historical import, et al. Though not a participant in the conversation, I was ensnared by the threads of talk and soon became numb and disoriented, as if afflicted by a nerve-deadening, conscious-altering venom. By the time I took my seat I had experienced several out-of-the-body moments, which was an apt physical condition for someone about to witness a film that, I assumed, took place for the most part in a gravityless environment.

If I may here inject a critical note—had I been the director of Space Cowboys, telling the story of four aged astronauts, a team of pre-NASA pioneers called upon to make an emergency shuttle flight to a Russian communications satellite that is about to fall from orbit, I would have quickly transported them out into the void and created a claustrophic setting in which to examine the problems of age, the erosion and redefinition of friendships, and, as the men battled their own limitations, their unforgiving surroundings, secret enemies, I would have gradually and suspensefully revealed an unexpected evil force that threatened to overwhelm them. Mr. Eastwood, however, chose to spend the first hour or so of his film on Planet Earth, detailing in an unengrossing by-the-numbers style the origins of the team in the 1950s, their Magnificent Seven-like recruitment some forty years later, their training, etc., etc., and this stretch of time was made to seem interminable by the constant insertion of lame age jokes into the process. My attention drifted, and my thoughts returned to the speech…not the stump speech with which the man from Midlands has regaled crowds all over our Fabulous Fifty, bellowing out his simplistic yet eccentric slogans ("We got philosophy…" being my personal favorite). No, my brother and sister patriots, I am talking about The Speech, the Oration, the Mighty Verbal Sword with which George the Second slashed away the jowly, liverspotted, squint-eyed, sneering demon mask that has for so long obscured the shining, almost completely white face of the Compassionate Conservative, a creature without an ounce of greed in its heart or a mean bone in its body. I studied the words that the president-to-be's revivalist passion had burned into my brain, trying to interpret the strange parables encysted within the corpus of the text, particularly fascinated by the story regarding a young prison inmate whom His Bushness had counseled back in Texas. I must admit to thinking that had I been the aforementioned inmate, confronted by a man who signs execution orders with the profligacy of Pete Rose signing autographs at a baseball card show, I would have been less than comforted by his interest in me. But to indulge in such negativity would have been barely a step removed from engaging in the politics of personal destruction, and so I pressed on with my analysis, believing that this apparent irony must be an indicator of a deeper, cleverly embedded truth. And perhaps, I thought, Mr. Eastwood had employed a similar technique in Space Cowboys. Perhaps the fact that he eliminated suspense by giving away the ending of his movie early on—I mean, when one sees a Russian general participating in classified Pentagon briefings, exchanging meaningful glances with the head of NASA, it takes no consequential intuitive leap to deduce that the Russian satellite about to fall from orbit is carrying a nuclear payload of some sort… But as I was saying, perhaps this and other anti-dramatic disclosures constituted a directorial sleight-of-hand that allowed the development of a subtler brand of suspense imperceptible to audiences but important in some revolutionary and as yet unfathomable way. It's possible that just as the new George Bush's too-obvious shallowness has proven itself a symptom of compassionate spirituality, Space Cowboys' patent lack of subtlety and paucity of tension were achieved by a delicately nuanced mastery of expression designed to produce effects that we will not fully comprehend for weeks or even years (rather like the eventual onset of a recession triggered by a massive, ill-considered tax cut). This theory may also shed light upon Eastwood's refusal to develop his astronaut characters, offering stereotypes instead: a toothless womanizer (Donald Sutherland); a goofy Baptist preacher named Tank (James Garner); an assholic Top Gun type named Hawk (Tommy Lee Jones), and Frank the Alpha Male (Clint his own self). And it might further call for a re-examination of the ludicrous premise that underlies the film—i.e., that of all the people in the entire world, only these four doddering American pilots are qualified to troubleshoot an outmoded technology pirated from NASA by the Russians and maintained by them in an orbital satellite ever since.


Something else must be going on, something less expressed than emblematized by the clumsy linkages of the plot, something that would justify and allow for a reinterpretation of what seems a superfluity of the vacuous, the superficial, and the absurd.

Once again I feel compelled to inject a critical note. Someone less attuned than I to the secret mechanisms of Space Cowboys might suggest that Eastwood has herein attempted to make two movies in one, the first a comedy and the other a thriller, and has managed instead to make only two half-movies, neither of them especially successful. They might further suggest that the thriller half, being overly compressed, skips a number of logical steps, replacing them with a welter of pseudo-scientific jargon intended to persuade the viewer that one of our heroes ultimately must strap himself to a turbinelike section of the satellite encircled by armed nuclear missiles and blast off moonwards, thereby simultaneously achieving his life's ambition and a noble end (which one of them will make the supreme sacrifice is never in doubt, since the astronaut in question has been conveniently diagnosed with a fatal illness). On the surface it would seem that these hypothetical judgments are correct, but I discovered that the boredom inspired by the lapses in Eastwood's storytelling induced me to focus the larger part of my attention upon the satellite itself, which bears the name IKON, a scary-looking-and-acting relic of the evil empire brought low by the forces of Reaganomics, still magically alive, its steel body infused with a scrap of cold Soviet villainy. It spins and rotates with martial precision, extruding radar arrays and missile bays and all manner of sinister objects, reminiscent of those children's toys that mutate from innocent robotic figures into insectile rocket launchers, and as I meditated upon this ikon of our fabled victory over Communism, I was sequentially induced to contemplate once again the current of renewal abroad in the land.

(I should tell you at this point that sitting in the theater, I felt as if The Movie and The Speech were resonating with one another, sandwiching me with harmonious vibrations, causing my mind to shift back and forth between the two, not competing for my attention so much as energizing me, imbuing my thoughts with increasing momentum and spin. But I digress…)

The previous night, while basking in the afterglow of St. George's gospel spell, I had tuned my radio to a call-in show and listened as the American people responded, engaging in yet another of our grand traditions—eschewing individual opinions and parroting comments they have heard spoken by television pundits. I was enthralled to hear one man say in doltish Homer-Simpsonesque tones, "I really like Bush 'cause he's not negative." At that precise moment this characterization of W, who studied dirty tricks under the infamous Lee Atwater and himself is rumored to employ a legendary dirty tricks operator known by the code name of Turdblossom…well, it struck me as incongruous to say the least. But the following afternoon, watching the space cowboys rope in their satellite, that anonymous caller's touching, childike offering of allegiance to a concept as elegantly sophisticated as the non-negative, with its oblique implication of cinematic relevance, suddenly made sense to me in terms both of the movie and the idiot wind blowing out of Philly. My God, it was all so simple!

If I could explain to you the illumination I then experienced, my fellow Americanauts, believe me, I would. But because the principle of absolute non-negativity that I touched—or, perhaps, that touched me—was simplicity itself; I'm afraid that explanation would fractionate it and thus act to obscure. I do, however, believe this principle can be experienced by others, that watching a videotape of the George-a-roo's big moment followed closely by a viewing of Space Cowboys will result in a "white light" experience similar to that cited as the central element of the world's great religions, the contact with a being so immensely itself, it is truly—like the Republican Party—all-inclusive. And once this contact has been made, everything dark will become bright, the aesthetic puzzle posed by the poignant ineptitudes of Eastwood's film will open to you like lotus blossoms, and you will be able to perceive that for all his obvious mental impairment, the man described by Ronald Reagan Jr. (who should know something about the subject) as the least qualified person ever to seek the Presidency, the George-ous One, The Non-Negative Candidate himself, is nearly Christlike in his simplicity (I say "nearly" only because of my cautious nature, not trying to deny that my heart has been filled by His Message of Hope) and that he will in the near future, I dare say, crown our 'hood with brotherhood from sea to shining sea…whatever the hell that means. My American friends, my precious family of ideologically pure patriot saints, usurers, good buddies, ladies bimbos religious devotees, priests nuns out-of-work lounge singers, violent children homeless schizos migrant workers, disgusting yuppies, just plain folks extraordinary talents, rappers trappers bitch slappers and drug addicted overweight race haters, I am so blissfully persuaded of the blessings conveyed by this magic cocktail of film and oratory, I am delighted to offer you a videotape containing both a reproduction of The Speech and an uncut bootleg of Space Cowboys including full frontal shots of both Tommie Lee and Donald Sutherland. The cost of this tape is not, as you might expect, $39.99. Nor is it a ridiculously cheap $29.99. Nope, I am making a one-time offer of both products for a mere $19.99. That's right, folks! For only 19 dollars and 99 centavos, you can experience the light of the burning Bush, the satori of space flight, decryptify the hidden meaning of any movie mystery, and inoculate yourself permanently against the examined life. But you must act now! Just dial 1-800-GET HELP or 1-800-SHOOTME. If you call within the next half-hour I will also include a collector's-edition troll doll of Dick Cheney in full-on grimace, complete with a plastic replica of the War Room, where you can pose Dick with his finger on the button. And just because you're you and you and you, I will throw in an autographed copy of Dirty Harry's Geriatric Hunks, the hottest calendar of the new millennium. But you Must. Act. Now.

Well, I have a business to run, and I'd best get back to it. But before I join my fellow Americans, none of whom—to the best of my recollection—have ever seen me snort coke or womanize or commit any misdeed that might sully the sanctity of marriage or put a frown on Miss Liberty's face…before I join them in their relentless quest for equal justice and human rights, I have one final comment. I noticed yesterday that in their review of Space Cowboys, the New York Times proclaimed it to be the best movie of the summer. I was initially nonplussed by this seemingly unwarranted hyperbole, but then, casting my mind back to films like The Patriot, The Nutty Professor II, Gladiator, Battlefield Earth, Gone in 60 Seconds, and the like, I realized that the Times was damning with faint praise, and I said, Hey, why the hell not? Space Cowboys certainly wasn't any worse than most of the schlock I'd seen, and the blue-haired, electrolysis-loving set appeared happy as they exited the theater, formed into single file and marched smartly off to their appointed parking slots. Indeed, as Mrs. Pink tottered giddily heavenwards, I heard her say in an oddly uninflected voice, "That sure was some movie," a statement that might someday serve as her exit line from the theater of life and with whose generic character and neutral level of affirmation I cannot help but concur.

Editorial Note: [Aside to the attorney in the wings: "Do we have to?…"] Alas, the merchandise offer was made in the spirit of parody, and is not genuine. As far as we know.