Galaxy Quest

Review by Adam Blair

Directed by Dean Parisot
Written by David Howard and Robert Gordon, based on a story by David Howard
Starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Daryl Mitchell and Enrico Colantoni

Rated PG, 102 minutes. (1999)

Simultaneously skewering Star Trek idolatry and providing wish fulfillment for rabid Trekkies, Galaxy Quest is a sloppy, amiable comedy with a few phaser-sharp laughs, especially in its second half. For a Trekkie like myself, the idea of thrusting the actors from a long-cancelled sci-fi series into actual black holes to face truly slimy aliens (as opposed to character actors buried under pounds of makeup) is irresistible. It's such a rich comedic vein that I wish Galaxy Quest had mined it for more laughs, but the movie is still appealing - even if you've never donned a pair of Spock ears or waited hours to get George Takei's autograph.

As this movie starts, the actors from the "Galaxy Quest" TV show have been reduced to convention appearances and electronics store openings. Trapped by geeky fans who pester them for technical details about their missions, the actors accept their pseudo-celebrity imprisonment with a combination of resignation, anger, bitterness and jealousy.

Most of these negative feelings are focused on Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), the womanizing limelight hog who played the Kirk-like commander. Bitterest and funniest of all is Alan Rickman as Alexander Dane. His "Quest" role, the alien Dr. Lazarus, requires him to wear a skullcap that makes him look as if he's sporting a dorsal fin and purple gills. Dane is pining for Richard III's hump and the five curtain calls he took back when he was a "real actor" - albeit a starving one.

He's not the only one with something strange on his head: Sigourney Weaver goes blonde to play Gwen DeMarco, who played the requisite big-breasted bit of cheesecake on the "Galaxy Quest" show. She's the polar opposite of the tough, capable Ripley that Weaver embodied in the Alien movies, and Weaver is a bit too smart to successfully play someone who is playing dumb. Daryl Mitchell as the helmsman and Tony Shalhoub as a chief engineer who is far from the brightest dilithium crystal in the mine round out the cast.

Galaxy Quest really hits warp speed when these over-the-hill thespians are recruited by a group of gullible, child-like aliens who have mistaken their TV show for "historical documents," i.e. the real thing. The aliens are led by Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni, taking what must be a welcome break from the idiot sitcom "Just Shoot Me.")

In order to battle the evil reptilian Sarris (Robin Sachs), the "Quest" actors are forced to actually be brave, daring, resourceful, etc. Needless to say, they've had more experience checking their hair and calling their agents than actually piloting a space ship or working in harmony, but they eventually play their new/old roles surprisingly well.

Galaxy Quest gets it best laughs by playing off the stereotypes that have become part of our shared media lore. For example, the lead actors are accompanied on their inadvertent adventures by Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell), a former bit player who, like so many red-shirted security guards before him, was killed off before the first commercial in the one episode he appeared in. Fleegman is terrified not just because he's actually being menaced by aliens but because, like the media-savvy characters in the Scream films, he's watched enough TV to know that the life span of a character as minor as he is is extremely short. He's only comforted when Shalhoub says "Maybe you're not the guy who gets killed. Maybe you're the plucky comic relief."

Quest might have been even funnier had it come out in the 1970s, in that dark period after the original "Star Trek" series was cancelled. That's when the nerdy faithful wandered in the wilderness, warily greeting each other with the split-fingered "Live Long and Prosper" and wondering why manual override never seemed to work.

Of course, it's easier to laugh now, after 10 Trek films and three more TV series have vindicated the fans and turned the once low-rated cult into a multi-billion-dollar franchise, but a spoof like Galaxy Quest would have been fresher then. Still, in its silliness, Quest provides a nice, light fizz among heavier holiday fare.

(This article originally appeared in Films in Review, www.filmsinreview.com)

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