CAPRICORN ONE (director/writer: Peter Hyams; cinematographer: Bill Butler; editor: James Mitchell; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Elliott Gould (Robert Caulfield), James Brolin (Col. Charles Brubaker), Brenda Vaccaro (Kay Brubaker), Sam Waterston (Lt. Col. Peter Willis), O. J. Simpson (Cmdr. John Walker), Hal Holbrook (Dr. James Kelloway), Karen Black (Judy Drinkwater), Telly Savalas (Albain), David Huddleston (Congressman Hollis Peaker), James Karen (Vice President Price), Robert Walden (Elliott Whitter), David Doyle (Walter Loughlin), Norman Bartold (President), Darrell Zwerling (Dr. Bergen); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Paul N Lazarus III; Warner Bros.; 1978)
“Can you imagine O. J. Simpson as an astronaut?”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Can you imagine O. J. Simpson as an astronaut? Peter Hyams (“Outland”/”Narrow Margin”/”The Star Chamber”) is the writer-director who weighs in on America’s disillusionment over the long debacle in Vietnam with his post-Watergate cynical film, as he plays this thriller into a gimmicky Hollywood-style dark surreal conspiracy theorist’s wet dream (made in honor of those wackos who believed the moon landings were faked by NASA). It has a workable premise, but wooden acting and a lousy script (the ham-fisted dialogue is unbearable and the plot soon becomes implausible). I could see Barbra Streisand kvelling over this pic, as ex-hubby Elliott Gould and current hubby James Brolin are costars.

NASA spots a critical flaw in its life-support system on its first manned mission to Mars on Capricorn One and just before launch decides to fake a landing on Mars instead of doing the logical thing–expose the faulty contractor. The flight crew consisting of leader Col. Charles Brubaker (James Brolin), Lt. Col. Peter Willis (Sam Waterston) and Cmdr. John Walker (O.J. Simpson) are taken to a hangar in the desert and the empty rocket is launched. They are shocked when the mission control head scientist, Dr. James Kelloway (Hal Holbrook), explains they can’t afford another screwup or Congress would cut funding for the program and the plan is to lock the astronauts in a remote film studio where the Mars landing will be simulated for TV and thereby ensure to the world America’s superpower image. The astronauts are forced to go along with madman Kelloway’s plan to make them into hero patriots or else, but things go awry when the capsule burns up on re-entry and the astronauts must now play dead.

It winds down its silly bankrupt story with no clear or fulfilling conclusion, that has investigative reporter Robert Caulfield (Elliott Gould), who smelled something fishy from the start, acting with alacrity to prevent NASA from “terminating” the astronauts in order to cover up the conspiracy. To help save the day (or for that matter, the film) it climaxes in the desert with excitable wise guy pilot Albain (Telly Savalas) in a battered crop-dusting plane along with the reporter, attempting to rescue the one surviving astronaut from two top-of-the-line US air force helicopters trying to terminate him (Guess who comes out of the desert alive!).

It’s the kind of mindless film that should especially appeal to illogical conspiracy buffs and those with a sweet tooth for toothless films.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”