Rated PG-13 - Running time: 1:40 - Released 3/12/99

This time of year, after all the Oscar contenders have been released, is traditionally the time when distributors start filling up the market with their leftovers — films that could only make money this time of year, while the movie-hungry public awaits the Academy Awards. A perfect example of such a film is Chris Roberts's Wing Commander, a movie based on a successful PC game, whose plot and characterizations betray its joysticky origins. Roberts, whose directing credits include only the game itself, obviously spent more time matching the effects to those of your computer than matching the people to those of your (or my) reality.

Wing Commander, set in the year 2654, is the story of the interstellar war between the human ConFeds and the Kilrathi, a race of nasty, green, froggy guys who want nothing more than to make history of the human race. As in Starship Troopers, no explanation is given for the enemy's enduring animosity toward us humanoids; they just don't like us is all. They've attacked one of the ConFed ships and captured its NAVCOM computer, which will enable them to find the deep-space coordinates of a series of interstellar jump points that will lead them to Earth, where they plan to do a little target practice.

Racing to cut them off at the pass is our team of good guys, featuring Christopher "Maverick" Blair (Freddie Prinze Jr.), his best friend, Todd "Maniac" Marshall (Matthew Lillard), and Jeanette "Angel" Devereaux (Saffron Burrows), their wing commander. Hence the name. Along the way, they get in all sorts of deep-space pickles, but they always manage reasonably well, since they're the good guys. Their "fighters," which bear an uncanny resemblance to 20th-century military fighter aircraft, are equipped with extremely high-tech weapons similar to those found in computer games.

Among the paper-thin subplots is a growing relationship between Blair and Angel, a more animalistic bond between two others, and Blair's attempt to understand his heritage as a descendent of the "Pilgrims" (the first generation of spacefarers). It seems that there is a history of animosity between Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims, because the former are said to possess an instinctual ability to navigate and therefore grew to consider themselves above all others. Blair doesn't feel that way, but he nevertheless enjoys the hatred of most of his colleagues.

The acting is passable; Prinze and Lillard have proven themselves before and Saffron is certainly more than just a pretty face, but emotionally the film is pretentious and forced. The script attempts to borrow one element from Rémarque's All Quiet On The Western Front: It is an unspoken rule among the pilots that anyone killed in action is said to have never existed. This is supposed to ease the emotional impact of combat, but the idea of any of these people having any real emotion is laughable, unlike in All Quiet.

A rather strange choice on the part of 20th Century Fox was to attach the controversial Star Wars: Episode I trailer to this film. It seems to underscore Wing's deficiencies; the trailer clearly outstrips the 100 minutes that follow, but perhaps they thought it would boost sales if people knew they would get to see those magical 5 minutes. Rumor has it that in some cities people have actually paid the admission, watched the trailer, and then tried to get their money back. But I don't recommend trying that at our own Garrett 8 Cinemas; Faith just isn't in the mood. **½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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