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Galaxy Quest

By Vladimir Zelevinsky

Directed by Dean Parisot

Written by Robert Gordon and David Howard With Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Enrico Colantoni

File this one under “guilty pleasures.” All right, very guilty, and not even that much of a pleasure - but, still, Galaxy Quest did make me smile for a good part of its 98 minute running time. Main reason why it works: a handful of excellent actors clearly having a good time, nifty visuals, and a killer high-concept plot (the actors of a cheesy TV sci-fi show are mistaken by benign aliens for the real space heroes and whisked away to moderate an interstellar dispute -- space warfare ensues.)

There’s a lot of funny material packed into a three-minute opening sequence which pokes fun at just about every aspect of TV sci-fi. Tim Allen plays a narcissistic captain who barks incomprehensible pseudo-scientific commands. Sigourney Weaver is a blonde sexpot displaying a considerable amount of cleavage and Alan Rickman is an intense-looking alien wearing several pounds of makeup. Providing comic-relief is Tony Shalhoub as an engineer and a cute teen ensign played by Daryl Mitchell who is also used to increase ethnic diversity. All of this is accompanied by stupid computer graphics, fake sets, plot holes, and general air of amiable nonsense.

After this introduction, we’re back in real world, and the movie starts floundering. It spends unnecessary amounts of time on a fan convention sequence and perfunctory attempts to set up some personalities and conflicts. I’m always for having characters and conflicts, but not when they are as artificial and contrived as they are here.

In any case, eventually, we do go in outer space, and the movie promptly forgets that it aspired to be a Star Trek parody, settling instead for a much less lofty goal: being a Star Trek rip-off.

What we get is the same stuff as in the opening sequence: more stupid computer graphics, more fake sets, and more plot holes... and I don’t think any of it was intended to he humorous, other than the general air of amiable nonsense. For instance, there’s one character who goes around, bemoaning his fate as a nameless expendable crew member and expecting to perish at any instance - and while this is clearly intended as a joke, there is, at the same time, another nameless crew member, who is indeed killed off at an opportune moment. If you would hope that there’s some connection between these two, you’d be wrong. The first one is comic relief, and the second one is a lazy clichÉ, and that’s all there’s to it.

One would hope that the low intelligence of the plot is a part of a joke, but, regrettably, it’s not: all of the adventures are meant to be taken at face value. Self-referential wit is clearly beyond the scope of Galaxy Quest, as is any kind of wit, for that matter. The cast includes the actors behind Buzz Lightyear and Lt. Ripley -- and yet the film does not manage a single in-joke about Toy Story or the Alien series.

Even worse than the screenplay is Dean Parisot’s inane direction: there’s no regard for pacing or even continuity, and essential shots are missing from action sequences.

At least, visually Galaxy Quest is nice, proving that if you throw enough money at the screen, at least some of it will stick. Industrial Light and Magic is involved, and they do throw a lot of candy-colored special effects at the screen, most of them fun -- almost as much as some of the actors. Tim Allen possesses no screen presence whatsoever, but Weaver, Rickman, and Shalhoub are grand. Rickman’s world-weary sarcasm is refreshing, and Shalhoub’s deadpan delivery just keeps getting funnier and funnier. Weaver, just like her character, has nothing whatsoever to do, other than wear a tight uniform with her zipper getting lower and lower. But she is funny, and self-depreciating, and as sexy as she didn’t have a chance to be since, oh my gosh, Working Girl.

Ultimately, this redeems Galaxy Quest. As a parody, it’s weak, but taken at its face value -- as an undemanding space opera, call it Star Trek 8 1/2 -- it is light, and breezy, and consistently interesting. It is certainly markedly better than just about any odd-numbered Star Trek movie, that’s for sure.

There’s an additional subtle subtext to this film, and accidental or not, it is worth mentioning. On some level, the story of Galaxy Quest is about a bunch of hammy actors, who are forced to do some method acting by getting a chance to actually become their characters. Were it to pay at least lip service to this, Galaxy Quest could have become really interesting; as it is, it’s, well, cute.