Free Enterprise
directed by Robert Meyer Burnett
(Regent, 1998)

Mark and Robert are Trekkies.

OK, that's a bit of an understatement.

As children, at opposite ends of the country, both experienced visitations by an imaginary William Shatner in their hours of need. Both grew into Star Trek lovin' geeks, buying an astonishing quantity of toys and gadgets (at the expense of little things, like electricity and telephone service) and dropping pop-culture references to science-fiction movies and comic books at every opportunity. (Believe it or not, those movie quotes that are so annoying in real life are actually clever in this film's dialogue.)

As adults, Mark (Eric McCormack) and Robert (Rafer Weigel) work in minor capacities in the L.A. movie industry. By quirk of fate, they meet the real Bill Shatner casually reading porn in a second-hand bookshop. A sort of friendship develops, hinging largely on Shatner's plans to produce a six-hour musical version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

Along the way, there are girlfriend troubles, occasional sex, employment setbacks, endless ramblings about minute points of movie plots, artfully deployed action figures, billiards, basketball and the occasional drink. Mark and Robert's biggest fight is over which of them is Kirk and which is Spock. (McCormack, by the way, does a great Kirk imitation.)

Free Enterprise is a talky movie of the Kevin Smith variety. It plays best to people who get the many film and comic references, of course. (The DVD comes with a glossary to explain words and phrases for the non-geek crowd.)

Director Robert Meyer Burnett and producer Mark A. Altman wrote Free Enterprise as a semi-autobiographical homage to Shatner and the original Trek series. Originally conceived with Shatner on a godly pedestal, the script was revised at Shatner's suggestion to give him less godhood, more human foibles. Consequently, some of the biggest treats are the Shatner moments.

"I'm not really a jerk, you know," he says at one point. "I'm just terribly misunderstood."

Shatner gets a few cool Yoda-like moments, particularly in one of the opening "invisible mentor" scenes when a schoolyard bully claims that Han Solo is better than Captain Kirk. Shazam!

But no one can live entirely submerged in a futuristic fantasy world, and someone has to grow up just a bit as the movie progresses. "You gotta mix a little reality in with your imagination to achieve happiness in your life," Shatner advises Mark and Robert at one point. "And you've got to overcome your programming which, in your case, is a 30-year-old television show."

Free Enterprise is more than just a tribute to science-fiction geeks, despite the many references to Star Trek, Star Wars, The Planet of the Apes and even Logan's Run. It's a quirky romantic comedy built around a quirky, distinctive hook, and I suspect even the creators never dreamed it would work so well.

And the rap version of Marc Antony's speech is sheer and utter cinematic delight. Kudos to Shatner for the effort!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 30 November 2002

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