(PG-13) 3 stars My association with Star Trek goes back to the premiere of the original series. Dad sat back in his easy chair while I sprawled on the rug, waiting to see if this new show would finally bring "real" sci-fi to network TV. We were discouraged by the first episode, which revolved around a shape-shifting salt monster, but we hung in there. Thankfully, the subsequent episodes got better.
Our interest faded in the third (and final) season, which, for the most part, was awful. Later, however, when daily reruns of the show began, I got hooked all over again. Over time, I came to enjoy the cheesiness of some Season 3 episodes ("Oh my God, they"ve stolen Spock"s brain!"). In 1975, I even traveled to New York City to attend one of the first Star Trek conventions. When the film franchise started, I was there on opening day, thrilled to see the crew back in action despite my disappointment with the movie. I remained a fan regardless and my reward came in 1986, with the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The sequel series was stiff at first, and some of the plotlines were rehashes of tales from the original show, but ST: TNG came into its own and became my favorite show of the franchise (my loyalty has not extended to the post-TNG series). I tell you all this for two reasons. First, it feels good to embrace my inner geek. Second, knowing my relationship to Star Trek will place my comments about the new film in the proper context. Star Trek: Nemesis starts off wobbly, then finds its footing and moves forward with considerable force. The movie feels more physical than previous outings, punching a hole into the complacency exhibited on occasion by the bridge crew as they sat in their comfy dental chairs watching big-screen space TV. Where does the film place in comparison to the other ST: TNG outings? It"s better than Generations and Insurrection, but not as good as First Contact. I suspect the fan debate over the worth of this one to be more intense than with the other films. Here"s the setup: (SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING REVEALS THE BASIC PLOTLINE, BUT NO SPECIFICS) Times are good. Two crew members have just tied the knot. The first of the two ceremonies, conducted in the groom"s home state of Alaska on planet Earth, is over and the Starship Enterprise is en route to the bride"s home world for the second. The "B" storyline begins when Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) picks up some odd readings from a nearby planet. The source turns out to be the dismantled body of an android that looks exactly like Data (Brent Spiner). The "A" storyline starts with a message from Starfleet. The Romulans, longtime Federation enemies, have experienced a change in power and the new leader wants to discuss a peace treaty. Upon arrival, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) learns that the new Romulan leader hails from Remus, the sister planet of Romulus, although he looks like a human being. Shinzon (Tom Hardy) states he wants to make peace, but we know better - the young man has a dark agenda, one that includes some nastiness with Capt. Picard prior to the conquest of Earth (END SPOILERS). In evaluating Star Trek: Nemesis, it is important to note that the screenplay was written by John Logan (Gladiator), a hard-core fan, and directed by Stuart Baird (U.S. Marshals), not a fan at all. Logan"s screenplay shows his fan sensibility, with Trek references galore and a climax that, depending on your mood, either pays homage to or completely rips off another Trek film. The agenda in Baird"s direction is simply to create an action-adventure film that will appeal to non-fans. Accordingly, he takes the ceremony at the beginning of the film and edits it mercilessly (I wish he had left more of the ceremony and trimmed some of the redundant stuff in the middle of the film). Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher in the TV series, lobbied hard to get a role in the film and succeeded, only to have Baird chop out all his lines (he now appears onscreen for only a second or two). A major change for Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) went "poof" in the editing process and LaForge, Cmdr. Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Lt. Cmdr. Worf (Michael Dorn) have virtually nothing to do. As for counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), her face time is minimal, but at least she gets to handle something important, after being relegated to comic relief status following her amusing drunk scene in First Contact. Ron Perlman (the Beauty and the Beast TV series) is evocative as a Remun viceroy, but the film is ultimately a three-character piece, with Picard and Data sharing the screen with the villainous Shinzon. British actor Tom Hardy is terrific in the role, coming off like a young Alan Rickman (if they ever decide to do Die Hard Jr., he would be perfect). As always, Patrick Stewart is excellent and the face-offs between the two provide much of the film"s sense of substance. After Ricardo Montalban"s wrathful Khan, I"d rank Shinzon as neck and neck with Alice Krige"s Borg Queen as best villain of the movie franchise. Brent Spiner is fine as Data, though I did not enjoy the introduction of yet another look-alike android. Although Data makes a great impact on the outcome of the film, the "B" storyline involving the two androids is woefully anemic. How nice it would be to have a subplot about Dr. Crusher or Geordi, instead of another study of the emotional and social growth of an android. Thematically, the film is about the nature of identity, predisposition versus free will and the necessity of accepting change. I saw the movie with my nephew and it sparked some lively talk. What constitutes a person? If, at the moment of my death, someone copies my memories and places them into a cloned body, did I survive? Or is the new person just a Xerox, walking around with the memories of another? And do we make our own decisions - do we choose - or does a genetic template dictate our actions and reactions? One of the great things about Star Trek is that, after 35 years, it still raises interesting ethical and philosophical questions. Star Trek: Nemesis has troubles, but the positives outweigh the negatives. I"m glad I saw it. And now I shall take my leave, to enjoy the quiet time before this review is published and I get swamped with letters from Trek fans either congratulating me on my wisdom or informing me that I am a clueless fool.