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A fan-friendly 'Nemesis'

Trekkies will find enough good things to recommend the latest Star Trek movie - and enough clunkers to hope this isn't the last in the big-screen series.

By ERIC DEGGANS, Times TV Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2002

It may not sound fair, but I was prepared to enjoy Star Trek: Nemesis long before the first notes of the flashy Jerry Goldsmith score parted my hair in the movie theater.

Not because this film, the 10th in Paramount's blockbuster Trek franchise, was scripted by Oscar-nominated Hollywood heavyweight John Logan (Gladiator, Any Given Sunday). Or because it's the first one centered on the second-string Next Generation cast to feature a death among the core characters.

No, I was relying on an old rule among Trek movie fans: The Every Other Principle.

Given that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan remains the coolest Trek movie ever and 1998's Star Trek: Insurrection felt more like a really well-done TV episode, the stage was set for Nemesis to knock my socks off.

And it delivered. Sort of.

Yes, Nemesis has detailed, state-of-the-art digital effects; meaty scenes for Patrick Stewart's Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Brent Spiner's android Data; movie-level production values; and two (count 'em!) Kirk-style, hand-to-hand fight scenes.

But Trekkers will also find a lot of holes in the complex, roller-coaster-quick plot, with too many twists you can see coming a mile away.

The film opens on the crew celebrating a huge change: Picard's right-hand man, William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes), marrying ship's counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and leaving the Starship Enterprise for his own command.

Before they can leave, the Enterprise stumbles on a unique find: a prototype of Data, called B-4, disassembled on a desert planet. Blithely disregarding Starfleet rules and common sense, they gather the pieces and put this discarded machine back together.

Resuming the journey, the crew is detoured again, this time to check out a transfer of power among the Romulans (baddies who look like grouchy Vulcans), now ruled by a leader from Romulus' sister planet, Remus. Once there, Picard realizes something else: This leader is his clone.

Originally developed to replace the captain and serve as a covert spy, Picard's clone, Shinzon (Tom Hardy, Band of Brothers), was thrown into a mine when the plan was abandoned. He grew to lead those who live on Remus, grungy types who resemble Nosferatu-style vampires, disdained by the Romulans and used for slave labor.

Picard soon realizes that Shinzon has darker goals than the freedom of his people. Armed with a ship more powerful than the Enterprise, bearing a weapon that could wipe out all life on Earth, Shinzon becomes the latest Trek villain inexplicably focused on eliminating humanity (cue booming, maniacal bad-guy laugh).

Screenwriter Logan, working from a story he developed with Spiner and longtime Trek producer Rick Berman, smacks viewers over the head with the symbolism: Picard vs. Shinzon, Data vs. B-4, the Enterprise vs. the Reman ship and Riker vs. Shinzon's deputy, the Viceroy (Beauty and the Beast's Ron Perlman, beneath acres of latex makeup).

Indeed, true fans know that the core of any Trek film comes down to The Two Guys.

In classic Trek, it was Captain Kirk and his devoted Vulcan sidekick, Spock (the ship's doctor, Leonard "Bones" McCoy, was elbowed to the side in the films). These days, it's Stewart's confidently cultured Picard and his android pal Data. In Nemesis, longtime cast members LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge), Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher) and Michael Dorn (Worf) barely have 20 lines among them.

Hard-core fans will anticipate it all, including the twist that allows Data to save Picard from Shinzon and the final resolution that may allow a dead character to make a Spocklike return from oblivion.

Stewart has fueled rumors that, barring boffo box office receipts, Nemesis may be the last Star Trek movie, at least for the Next Generation cast, which transitioned into films in 1994 after the syndicated TV series ended.

But Star Trek movies have raked in $1-billion in combined ticket sales and $3.5-billion in merchandising. Because Stewart remains the most compelling, capable Trek captain, I wouldn't write those obituaries too soon.

Besides, Nemesis would be an off-balance capper to Star Trek's film life, neither grand nor substantive enough to serve as a satisfying conclusion. Ending the Enterprise's big-screen mission with a tale this pedestrian would be a crime of truly galactic proportions.

Star Trek: Nemesis

Grade: B

Director: Stuart Baird

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, Tom Hardy, Ron Perlman, Dina Meyer.

Screenplay: John Logan

Rating: PG-13

Running time: 116 min.

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