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Star Trek: Nemesis   C-

Paramount Pictures

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Stuart Baird
Writer: John Logan
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Ron Perlman.

Review by Rob Vaux

How old Star Trek has become. How exhausted and empty and used up. I've been a fan of the franchise for a long time, but watching Star Trek: Nemesis last weekend, I was reminded of a beloved pet, grown decrepit from advancing age. You want to love him, to remember him as the spry and clever companion from years gone by, but now, watching him struggle with the most basic tasks, it just fills you with pain. It's sobering to realize that Star Trek's high point -- the riveting climax to The Wrath of Khan -- took place over 20 years ago. Eight movies and four TV shows later, we're running on fumes.

At least with the crew of The Next Generation on board, you can expect some decent performances. The likes of Patrick Stewart (who has gone on to better things) and Brent Spiner (who hasn't) represent a big step up from William Shatner's mealy-mouthed hamming in the first stages of the phenomenon. In the past, Captain Picard (Stewart), Commander Data (Spiner) and their compatriots on the starship Enterprise have felt like an extended family. But in Nemesis they feel more like Saturday Night Live sketches, going through the motions to get a few Pavlovian cheers from the fans. The sight of Data belting out an old Irving Berlin tune in the film's opening leaves a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach, one which doesn't leave as the plot kicks into overdrive.

The foils this time are ostensibly the Romulans, the sinister-pointy-eared-Vulcan-type-guys who haven't been used much in the past. As villains they have potential, but Nemesis can't figure out what to do with them. Indeed, just as we're introduced to them, they're deposed in a coup by their bat-like slaves the Remans, led by a human clone of Picard (Tom Hardy) who wants to cut a swath of destruction through the universe. Sound confusing? Don't worry. Once they take over, they settle into plain-as-day evil schemer roles, inviting the Enterprise for peace talks that naturally serve as a ruse for a plan to destroy the Earth. The whiff of good science fiction lingers in the air throughout, giving hope that we might see the fun-filled Star Trek of old. All too quickly, however, it descends into formulaic cliché, rattling its bones rather than trying to flesh them out. Ships blow up, sets are destroyed, and bad guys chew on the scenery. Woo.

Director Stuart Baird really has his work cut out for him here. Star Trek is such a valuable franchise that no one can take any real risks with it, and yet the rigors of topping nine previous films demand a fresh approach. Baird ends up skewered on the horns of this dilemma, trying to infuse the proceedings with energy, but succeeding only in slight variations on previous incarnations. The evil twin idea, evinced by Picard and his clone, does nothing that dozens of soap operas haven't done before, and the Romulans' threat to Earth loses its tension beneath wave after wave of Trek universe minutia. Hardcore Trekkies might appreciate the details, but the rest of us would be happy with a little genuine excitement. The technical aspects of the production suffer as well. This is a very dark movie... and I don't mean that figuratively. It's murky and gloomy and full of shadow. Characters are often hard to spot and action scenes are frustratingly obfuscated. As if to compensate, the film's one outdoor sequence is overlit to the point of saturation, obscuring with sun what the rest of the film masks in shade. Nemesis is never pleasant to look at, an unforgivable sin with material as by-the-numbers as this. Stewart gives it his best shot and the rest of the crew has a few nice moments, but they're living on borrowed time.

Star Trek's TV spin-offs have been eclipsed in recent years by fresher fare like Farscape and Babylon-5, and executives counting on this film to resurrect the franchise are in for a big disappointment. Star Trek: Nemesis has the cards stacked against it from the beginning: 35 years of saving the universe takes its toll on the imagination, and this film, unfortunately, is stuck paying the check. There's nothing to be done for it but acknowledge that reality and move on. It was a great run, guys; you gave us a lot of good times and we thank you. But even the best know when to hang up their spurs, and Star Trek: Nemesis serves notice that the moment is well past due.

Review published 12.16.2002.

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