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[whitespace] Sigourney Weaver Hand Jive: Lt. Tawny Madison (Sigourney Weaver) strikes a blow of extraterrestial solidarity in 'Galaxy Quest.'

Space Cases

A motley crew of actors tour the stars

By Richard von Busack

THE IRRESISTIBLE PREMISE of Galaxy Quest has a long pedigree. Its central idea goes back at least as far as The Prisoner of Zenda, in which our hero, Rudolph (Ronald Colman), doubles for a kidnapped king and is taunted by the villain, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., as a "playactor." And in the 1982 My Favorite Year, a dissipated swashbuckler (Peter O'Toole) rallies to show a real-life version of his onscreen heroism. Galaxy Quest retells the old story with charm and brio.

The heroes aren't swordsmen, but the stars of a long-canceled sub-Star Trek space opera, coasting on residuals and personal appearances at electronics-store openings. You can see exhaustion early on in Alan Rickman's character as he gathers up what little energy he has for a star fit; he's stalling putting on the makeup of the all-wise alien Dr. Lazarus, which includes a latex skull piece that looks like a Technicolor nautilus shell. His colleague Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) is best remembered as Galaxy Quest's communications officer, Tawny Madison, and best understood as the cleavage on the show. Blonde-wigged and wonder-bra'd, DeMarco has the true thousand-yard stare of the aging starlet. The captain, Peter Quincy Taggart was played by the actor Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen).

At one Galaxy Quest convention, the crew is confronted by unusually pale-faced fans: genuine extraterrestrials in a room full of costumed earthlings. The aliens believe that every episode of Galaxy Quest is honest truth, and they beseech Taggart and company to board a ship they've built to help them against a genocidal, monkfish-faced alien named General Sarris (as in Andrew?). The oppressed aliens are rainbow-colored octopi, but in deference to the Galaxy Quest gang, they appear in human drag. They have the stiff, nervous posture of meerkats, with polyester hair and eerie, bright Moonie-like smiles. Their trustfulness, not the threat of harm, is what awakens the better nature of this motley group of Galaxy Quest actors, convincing them to become what they acted on television.

Allen is the main problem here. As a suburban light comedian, he doesn't have that necessary Shatnerness (Shatnessence? Shatoyance? Shatnoscence?)--I mean, that particular almost supernatural smugness that Shatner embodied that has been likened to the texture of velour on TV's Futurama. On the one hand, Allen's eagerness to head into deep space is pleasing and saves a lot of exposition; on the other hand, a more acrid lead would have given the film more emotional weight when the tone changed. Allen is the one clunking bit in some otherwise impressive and funny machinery.

And the machinery is genuinely funny. It's a story of the importance of fantasy, and director Dean Parisot (Home Fries) keeps the tone pleasing and sweet. The film compliments fans for being fans--thanks them for their loyalty and trust. Stan Winston's amusing creatures--over-the-top, Big Daddy Roth beasts--don't overshadow the elegant Weaver and Rickman. Here are two performers who appear to get more dead serious when they're playing comedy. They're supported well by Tony Shaloub as Tech Sgt. Chen, the ship's engineer. Shaloub, who's never been better, has the blown-minded calm of a grad of some sort of human potential movement (and thus he has the fewest qualms about embracing a woman with tentacles).

Galaxy Quest (PG; 102 min.), directed by Dean Parisot, written by David Howard and Robert Gordon, photographed by Jerzy Zielinski and starring Tim Allen, Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver, opens Saturday, (Dec. 25), at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the December 23-29, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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