[Screen It]

(2002) (Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner) (PG-13)

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Sci-fi: The crew of a federation starship tries to figure out whether an alien leader truly wants peace or is plotting something far more insidious.
After the marriage of crewmembers Commander William T. Riker (JONATHAN FRAKES) and Counselor Deanna Troi (MARINA SIRTIS), Captain Jean-Luc Picard (PATRICK STEWART) and his crew of the Starship Enterprise are sent on a possible diplomatic mission to meet with Praetor Shinzon (TOM HARDY) from the Romulan Empire.

Riker and Troi's trip to her homeland has already been disrupted when Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge (LEVAR BURTON) picked up unusual signals from a nearby planet. There, they found a dismantled android, B-4 (BRENT SPINER) that appears to be a prototype for the ship's resident android, Lt. Commander Data (BRENT SPINER).

With B-4 onboard, the crew - including Lt. Commander Worf (MICHAEL DORN) and Dr. Beverly Crusher (GATES McFADDEN) -- now heads off to meet Shinzon, unaware that he's recently killed much of the Romulan Senate. Once there, they're in for a bigger surprise when they see that the leader is not a native Romulan, but rather a human who was enslaved as a boy in the Reman mines.

Now with Reman Viceroy (RON PERLMAN) at his side and Romulan Commander Donatra (DINA MEYER) unsure of his motives, Shinzon is proposing peace between their people and their longtime enemy, the Federation. Yet, Picard isn't sure of Shinzon's sincerity, a point that's only exacerbated when he willingly lets them know that he's actually a clone of Picard who initially was genetically engineered to age rapidly and replace Picard one day.

As Picard gets to look into a mirror of his younger self and wonder if he might have turned out the same way under similar circumstances, he and the crew of the Enterprise try to discern Shinzon's real motives, including what he plans on doing with a massive weapon that could easily destroy them and even Earth.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Ask any Star Trek fan and they'll tell you about the odd-even theory regarding the movies based on the original TV show and its later successor. Basically, it boils down to the fact that if any given film's release in the series falls on an odd number, it will be bad, while the opposite is also true.

For reasons unknown and for the most part, such occurrences have pretty much held true and the latest such even-numbered film, "Star Trek: Nemesis," is better than the previous (and ninth) installment, "Star Trek: Insurrection."

That said, it's not a great deal better and obviously doesn't stand up to the best of the first films that starred the original TV cast. Nor does it bring much closure or even a truly heartfelt teary farewell to what's reportedly the last reunion of cast members from the "Next Generation" series.

While diehard STNG fans might find this last outing to their liking, it probably won't do much in crossover business. That's yet another signal (along with the progressively dwindling box office returns) that the series is pretty much kaput.

Despite the longer running time and obviously larger budget, the film never manages to transcend its TV episode aura. Simply put, it doesn't feel like a big screen movie should, particularly for one of this genre. Whether that's due to the director, Scott Baird ("U.S. Marshals," "Executive Decision"), and screenwriter, John Logan ("The Time Machine," "Gladiator"), being new to the characters and franchise is debatable.

Whatever the case, they've fashioned a film that will likely remind Trek fans and even casual moviegoers with long memories of the second film of the series, "The Wrath of Khan." Like that effort - the best one in my opinion - this one features a strong villain having a bone to pick with the captain, a potentially devastating weapon of mass destruction, a thirst for avenging past wrongs, and an obsessive nature that proves to be his undoing.

Yet, while director Nicolas Meyer and star Ricardo Montalban brought so much fun, energy and the perfect mixture of camp and engaging action to that film's villain and the overall movie, the filmmakers and actor Tom Hardy ("Black Hawk Down," "Band of Brothers") don't nearly get as much mileage out of the character or story here.

From a pure acting standpoint, however, Hardy's Shinzon is far better than most previous Trek villains. The actor easily holds his own when opposite Patrick Stewart ("X-Men," "Jimmy Neutron") and his classically trained, authoritative gaze and austere voice. It's just too bad that the character isn't as fun, scary or at least as engaging as written.

There's enough decent back story to allow that to happen, and the nature vs. nurture mirror symbolism is intriguing (since the villain is a clone). Yet, more often than not, the villain, his plan and his interaction with Picard are strangely inert. It's not exactly boring per se. Rather, little concerning that character, the antagonism or overall film engages the viewer the way they should.

A parallel subplot featuring Brent Spiner ("The Master of Disguise," "I Am Sam") playing his usual Data character as well as a newly found, earlier prototype of him also goes nowhere despite the potential and obvious symbolic connection to the Picard/Shinzon "relationship."

After the setup, sci-fi yacking and brief in-crowd humor, the film finally gets down to business with what most everyone wants. Namely, that's action and the last third of the film largely deals with the battleship encounters between the two starships. Unfortunately, even that lacks the necessary pizzazz to jump off the screen and etch itself onto one's mind.

It clearly pales in comparison to similar moments in "Wrath of Khan." That's despite decent special effects (although they're nowhere near state of the art nowadays) and the familiar but reliable score from composer Jerry Goldsmith ("The Sum of All Fears," many other "Star Trek" movies).

Depending on who your favorite performers might be from the series (if you're a fan), you may or may not be disappointed by their screen time. Stewart and Spiner get the lion's share, while Jonathan Frakes (other "Star Trek" films) and Marina Sirtis (ditto) briefly have some wedding moments (including in the bedroom). The likes of LeVar Burton ("Ali," TV's "Roots"), Michael Dorn ("The Santa Clause 2," the various "Trek" movies) and Gates McFadden ("The Hunt for Red October," the various "Trek" movies), however, are only given a few lines and little else to do other than occupy space.

Whoopi Goldberg ("Rat Race," "Monkeybone") and Kate Mulgrew ("Star Trek: Voyager") appear in just one scene each, while Dina Meyer ("Bats," "Starship Troopers") plays an alien leader. No stranger to playing behind masks, Ron Perlman ("Enemy at the Gates," "Blade II") sounds good as the villain's right-hand "man," but can't do much with the character.

Despite a halfway decent if somewhat familiar premise, the film simply never gets off the ground, let alone into outer space. While fans might enjoy it or parts thereof, there's just not enough fun, energy or originality to entertain the average viewer. A moderately passable but otherwise forgettable diversion, "Star Trek: Nemesis" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed December 10, 2002 / Posted December 13, 2002

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