(1999)4Mike DiBellaJoe Johnston's sentimental film, based on NASA engineer Homer Hickam's autobiographical The Rocket Boys, is a largely breezy, uplifting picture. A Stand By Me for space and science enthusiasts, the film features an excellent young cast, with Jacob Gyllenhaal, Chris Owen, and Chad Lindberg sharing the screen with veterans Laura Dern and Chris Cooper, the latter playing Homer's old-fashioned father with grit and feeling. The tear-jerking plot gathers strength by playing upon the viewer's emotions, and also benefits from its setting in a dim West Virginia mining town, which starkly contrasts with the film's lilting tone. The dark, coal-like tint suggests that the mining town is a virtually inescapable biosphere, a seemingly desolate reality that makes the film's conclusion all the more effective. Johnston's adaptation shores up the details of the book magnificently, moving from one plot point to the next in a free and easy fashion, making for a full-blooded and well-executed film.