Capricorn One begins with a workable, if cynical cinematic premise: the first manned space flight to Mars was a hoax and the American public was fooled through Hollywood gimmickry into believing that the phony landing happened. But after establishing the concept, Peter Hyams’ script asks another audience – the one in the theatre – to accept something far more illogical, the uncovering of the hoax by reporter Elliott Gould.
The astronaut trio of James Brolin, Sam Waterston and O.J. Simpson together add up to nothing; there’s no group chemistry. Still, scattershot casting means once in a while you hit and in the final scene Gould and Telly Savalas are teamed. The duo is a bullseye. Savalas, in a delightful cameo as a crop duster hired to help rescue Brolin in the desert and uncover the plot, is a marvelous complement to Gould.
Hal Holbrook plays the mission commander who calls off the Mars shot and engineers the dupe. His character must change from sincere – he believes he’s doing the right thing by fooling the public – to menacing. In general, it is a script of conveniences.