does anyone remember when we used to be explorers?

“Star Trek: Insurrection.” You know what to expect: the eternal struggle between the Federation (a.k.a. Good) and the indeterminate aggressor who takes one form or another in each movie, in this case the Son’a (Evil). Formulaic in the extreme. And about 50% of the time, the series manages to elevate itself above the mundane formula to something special.

The rest of the time, it doesn’t.

You may have heard about the curse of the odd-numbered “Star Trek” movies. If not, let me explain in ten words or less, give or take a few: Odd-numbered “Star Trek” movies always fail to live up to expectations (with an exception made for “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”). Simple enough, and a well-known fact among Trekkies and movie pundits. “Insurrection” is the ninth flick in the series. Naturally, it is merely mediocre.

Which brings me to my conspiracy theory. I have the sneaking suspicion that the so- called curse is so known that it has reached the upper echelons of the “Trek” universe, right into the ear of Rick Berman and Jonathan Frakes. I can see them now in their offices, giggling like schoolgirls as they plot how to make “Insurrection” a perfect part of the even-good-odd-bad Tarzan-like pattern. The curse is an excuse, and the “Trek” production team is taking full advantage of it in order to save themselves the effort of thinking up an entertaining, suspenseful, exciting script. Why make a good “Trek” when they can get away with a yuk-fest of a bad one and just write it off as the curse? The fans won’t be expecting much and it will of course be chalked up to the odd karma.

And so it goes with “Insurrection.” Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is dissatisfied with his currently diplomatic work aboard the Enterprise, dejectedly wondering if “anyone remembers when we used to be explorers” as a foreign dignitary places something that looks like a miniature version of those beaded car seat covers on his shiny pate. Minutes later he receives a distress call that Data (Brent Spiner) has blown a circuit or two and gone postal during a mission on a strangely idyllic planet – a perfect opportunity to dispense with the diplomacy and get down and dirty in the sector known as “the Briar Patch,” although it might more accurately be called “the Uterus” for all of the effects work done.

Long story short: The Son’a, led by Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham), have long outrun their lifespan through a series of ultra-facelift skin-stretching sessions that leave them looking like the English patient. With the Federation’s military support, they plan to extract fountain of youth-esque metaphasic particles from the rings surrounding the planet on which the Ba’ku have resided for 300 years – without aging a day. Picard learns of their dastardly plan, which will destroy the planet’s life-giving powers and the Ba’ku along with them, and decides that it is the Enterprise’s duty to stop the Son’a. Who will prevail? Well, let’s not forget those words of wisdom spoken by the real English patient in the self-titled movie: “I am a bit of toast, my friend.” The Son’a eventually meet the same fate.

In between these monumental struggles between good and evil, Picard finds time to make time with a 300-year-old mystery woman named Anij (Donna Murphy) who doesn’t look a day over 35. Data is taught how to “play” by a young Ba’ku scamp, an activity that apparently involves haystacks and a small, cutesy, slug-like cg animal. Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) explores the sensuous aspects of shaving with Riker (Jonathan Frakes, who also directed the film). Worf (Michael Dorn) revisits puberty, zits and all (“You Klingons never do anything small, do you?”). All of these and just about everyone else, too, gets in on the cheese action. If the moon is made of green gouda, then the Federation must be a galaxy-sized chunk of cheddar.

“Star Trek: Insurrection” is laughably entertaining, what with its absurdly perfunctory dialogue and clichéd action sequences, awkwardly broken up by deep philosophical questions and proselytizing about ethnic cleansing. Why bring these issues up at all if they’re just going to be dropped after a mention or two? This “Trek” can’t decide what direction to go in, although it ends up leaning more in one than another. You know you’re in for a ride when Picard breaks into showtunes little more than ten minutes into the movie.

The most interesting thing “Insurrection” has to offer is its subtle (and trust me, subtlety is hard to come by in this glorified “Trek” episode) references to the dissolution of the Federation. It won’t be much of a surprise if “Star Trek X” deals with unrest from within – but hopefully it will make a better movie.

Sat Dec 12 14:38:35 EST 1998
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