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Movie Review: 'Galaxy Quest'

Trek transformed: 'Galaxy Quest' carries actors on ride into alien territory

Friday, December 24, 1999

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"Galaxy Quest" depends entirely on our willingness to identify so thoroughly with a favorite TV show that we begin to believe it is real.

 
 
'Galaxy Quest'


Rating: PG for some action violence, mild language and sensuality.

Players: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman.

Director: Dean Parisot.

Critic's call: 2 1/2 stars.

   
 

Some people yearn for the peacefulness of a Mayberry. Others imagine themselves embraced by the loving closeness of the Waltons. I've driven past the Mary Richards house in Minneapolis and thought about seeing if she was free for the evening. And can we be sure there isn't a bar in some small Alaska town where a surly mountain man cooks gourmet food as the locals argue about philosophers and groove to the most eclectic jukebox in captivity?

Then there are Trekkies, the most extreme examples of people who have found in a television series something better, nobler and more engaging than reality. They dress in "Star Trek" uniforms, obsess on the smallest details of the show and boldly go where, in some cases, no one has ever wanted to go before.

"Galaxy Quest" starts out on the side of the cynics. The movie takes its name from a long-gone TV series whose cast has turned out for a fan convention, which is about the only work most of them get these days.

Backstage, they grouse about their roles, about being typecast and mostly about Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), the actor who played the commander in their space saga and always stole the best lines, held himself aloof from the others, had an ego the size of Alpha Centauri and is now late for today's gig. Sound familiar? That's exactly how most "Star Trek" cast members have characterized their captain, William Shatner.

Even Jason goes glum when he overhears someone referring to them all as has-beens. In a scene reminiscent of a famous "Saturday Night Live" spoof, he tells a couple of "Galaxy Quest" fanatics in effect to get a life.

So when a quartet of geeks with pasted-down hair, beatific smiles and kazoo voices approach him, insisting they are Thermians who need his help, he thinks it's more of the same and that they're involved with the personal appearance he's agreed to do on the next day.

It turns out, of course, that they really are aliens and they really do need help to defeat the evil Sarris (Robin Sachs), a dragonlike creature who wants to destroy the Thermians. They have mistaken old "Galaxy Quest" transmissions for historical documents and figure this swashbuckling crew can come to their rescue.

The only way they can survive is to believe in their roles enough to become the intrepid heroes everyone thinks they are. And they must rely to a degree on the fans who thought it was real all along.

The more it gets us to buy into the fantasy, the better "Galaxy Quest" becomes. At the outset, the movie falls flat. Director Dean Parisot ("Home Fries"), working from a screenplay by Robert Gordon and David Howard, has his timing all wrong, deflating the impact of the intended humor.

Once the cast members get into space, however, the comic possibilities expand -- especially because their real-life adventures turn out to be just as cheesy as their fictional escapades. Watching each of the actors click into his "Galaxy Quest" persona is amusing. Now Parisot gets the laughs just right, taking us by surprise instead of telegraphing the joke.

The most fun, though, comes in the contrast between the TV actors and their characters. Then we must take the real actors into account. The key players are Tim Allen, all hearty bombast as the captain; Sigourney Weaver, unrecognizable in a blond wig, as the character whose only function on the show was to show off her curves and repeat everything the computer said; and Alan Rickman, hilariously sarcastic about the Spock-like alien he must play.

Also along for the ride are Tony Shalhoub as the actor who gets the most enthusiastic about his character, the ship's technical whiz, perhaps because he's so unsure of himself in real life; Daryl Mitchell as the grown-up version of the kid navigator on the old series; and Sam Rockwell as Guy, who had no regular character and is convinced he'll die just like all the other faceless crewmen who beamed down on planetary missions.

The crowning touch is the grinning inanity of Enrico Colantoni as the head of the Thermians, who buys into the reality of "Galaxy Quest" so much that he has mold-ed much of his society after the show. Now that's the ultimate Trekkie.



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