Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:56 - Released 12/13/02

Every few years, like clockwork, they haul out the old uniforms, apply the girdles and the age-defying makeup, write a bunch of ridiculously huge salary checks, and set forth on a new Star Trek: Next Generation movie. And every time it gets just a little more desperate. Maybe it was just the unlucky fact that I saw Star Trek: Nemesis right between an eloquent, thought-provoking space movie (Solaris) and an enchanting fantasy/special effects extravaganza (Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers), but for me, this flight aboard the Enterprise was a bit of a letdown. Directed by Stuart Baird (U.S. Marshals), who’s been an editor much longer than he’s been a director, and written by John Logan (based on a story by himself, longtime ST:NG writer/producer Rick Berman, and Brent Spiner, the actor who plays the android Data), the film shows signs that the franchise is running out of ideas. Although we just saw an “attack of the clones” movie a few months ago, and we’ve seen more than one episode which included a Data double, those are precisely the film’s main two plot points. I have no complaint about the work of the actors, of course (they could do it in their sleep by now, as long as they get those huge checks), or of the special effects department. It just feels like the writers are grasping at straws.

This film begins with the wedding of the show’s longtime on-again-off-again romantic couple, Commander Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and ship Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), who, because she is half-Betazoid, has the telepathic ability to sense the feelings of anyone nearby. And it’s about time those two got married, since they’re both surely pushing retirement age at the Federation by now. Toasting the happy couple is the Best Man, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), whose ability to resist aging is probably the biggest reason the ST:NG franchise goes on. But Picard hardly gets through with his speech before he gets an emergency message. Before you know it, he and the rest of the ship’s crew (including the unfortunate bride and groom, who are diverted from their all-nude Betazoid wedding ceremony) are checking out a barren planet where pieces of an android that looks exactly like Data are strewn about everywhere. But after they get him put together, it turns out this version of Data is not exactly the same superintelligent technician full of quizzical looks and enlightened observations. This one, who calls himself B-4 (get it?), is more like a pre-schooler, eager to learn but rather thick around the cranial capacitors, and always sporting an irritatingly childlike look on his pasty greenish face. Data is, of course, intrigued.

Meanwhile, there is another crisis: the planet Romulus, which has always enjoyed a mutually distrustful truce with the Federation, has suffered a hostile takeover by the leader of its sister planet, Remus, a dashing young bald man named Shinzon (Tom Hardy) who happens to be a genetic clone of a young Picard.

Can the Enterprise gang figure out why there is another Data? Will Picard discover the truth about why he’s been called to a distant planet by his younger self? Will the Romulans and the Remans be able to settle their differences, or do they really have another, much more sinister plan in mind? Don’t trouble yourself—the answers are yes, yes, no, and yes. But the more important question is: Do we care?

I can readily admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of the Star Trek series, the old or the new. When there are space-related movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact, and Solaris, which can tell a compelling science-fiction story while still respecting all the understood laws of physics, I grow tired of phasers, transporters, warp drives, and aliens who all speak English. On the other hand, I can respect that Star Trek: The Next Generation has built a proud reputation for scripts that delve into complex matters of human nature, politics, environmental issues, etc. But this one doesn’t. While the digital effects, as usual, are spectacular (this film contains probably the best deep space dogfight I’ve ever seen), and the actors clearly know what they’re doing, the plotlines have just become too predictable. Do we really ever have any doubt that Picard and his crew are going to get everything worked out? Of course not. Star Trek has gone through so many life-and-death situations and come out smelling like a rose, it’s become impossible to take seriously, just like James Bond.

While this movie may be sheer mind candy to die-hard ST:NG fans, to me it’s just more of the same. But this time, the plot has become just as ill-fitting as those tired old uniforms. ***

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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