Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: "Star Trek"

"Star Trek" seems less a reboot of the fortysomething space franchise than a compilation of Trek Greatest Hits, as performed by a bunch of fresh-faced unknown actors tossing winking nods to Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the gang.

Directed by television wunderkind J.J. Abrams from a screenplay by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman (the same writing team behind the incomprehensible "Transformers"), "Star Trek" loads up on familiar bits from the Trek TV show and movies, as if they were trying to cull our favorite moments into a cinematic mix-tape rather than building upon the foundations of "Trek."

See Kirk and Spock trade blows right on the bridge! See Sulu wielding a sword! See Uhuru canoodling with a member of the crew (though not the one you think)! See the mind-warping bugaboo from "Wrath of Khan" inserted into a captain's orifice! See the Kobayashi Maru test force cadets to face the unwinnable scenario! See McCoy call Spock a "green-blooded hobgoblin" and protest that "I'm a doctor, not a physicist!"

This movie is "Trek" made for the Gen-Y, ADD-addled segment of the population -- all action, all the time. If you're looking for layered characterizations or cerebral ruminations about the Prime Directive, you might as well punch the escape pod now.

The heavy is Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan who's come back through time to do very bad things to the Federation in retaliation for something that happens more than a century hence. Unfortunately, he pops out 25 years too early, and destroys the ship on which James T. Kirk's father is serving. Daddy Kirk saves the ship and his expectant wife by sacrificing himself, which throws the temporal loop into flux.

That's right, this is one of those "alternate reality" deals, where the presence of Nero changes history. It also gives Abrams and his cohorts an excuse to jettison a lot of Trek lore and draw on a blank slate.

So Kirk is not the natural-born leader destined to sit in the captain's chair, but a loser punk who steals cars and gets into fights with Starfleet cadets. Challenged by Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to make something of himself, he jumps aboard the shuttle to cadet school at the last minute.

Three years later, the crew are assembled aboard the Enterprise and must engage Nero, who has reappeared and is wreaking terrible destruction across the galaxy. In an unlikely series of events, Kirk assumes command and must save the day.

The biggest question mark Trek fans have is how well the newcomers fill in for the original cast. As Spock, Zachary Quinto looks astonishingly like Leonard Nimoy (who also appears, playing an older Spock) and manages to crystallize the balance between logic and emotion. Chris Pine, on the other hand, bears little resemblance to Shatner, and his Kirk is shallow and smirky.

Simon Pegg is enjoyable as a brainier portrayal of Scottie than we've seen before, and Anton Yelchin is a hoot as the chirpy, hyperactive teenage ensign Chekov.

Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana and John Cho all manage to sketch a fleeting glimpse of Dr. McCoy, Uhuru and Sulu, respectively, although they're not given a lot of screen time to work with.
Stuffed with action but yearning for a little contemplation, "Star Trek" will leave audiences exhausted but not exhilarated.

1.5 stars out of four

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