'STAR TREK VI' Latest adventure soars with actiion and fun

If the Klingons detonated a small tactical nuke in the Velveeta plant, the result might be as cheesy as the new "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country."

It's got all the campy hallmarks of late period high Trek: those tacky burgundy polyknit uniforms that look like the Ruritarian Palace Guard, little cereal box-sized space ships, monsters at least as convincing as the San Diego Chicken, amber fields of artificial hair, lots of folksy old men rattling their dentures and trying to prove they ain't slowed up one dad-blamed bit, ears, ears, ears and so much spicy ham in the performances that you feel like you're making a guest appearance in a cold cut sub.


But, oh boy, is it ever fun.

A retreat from the absurd solemnity of the last film, which was like an album titled "William Shatner Reads from the Collected Works of Martin Buber," this baby really hums along. It zings, it pings, it whizzes, it buzzes. It's one damn thing after another.


As upon our own modest planet, Peace has broken out in the universe. Archenemy Klingon and human must begin to feel their way toward co-existence. But when the Starship Enterprise links up to escort a Klingon Bird of Prey toward the crucial peace conference, two photon torpedoes are fired from a mysterious source and an assassination team takes out "Gorkin," the Klingon minister.

With mega-war hovering but nanoseconds away, Captain Kirk (the redoubtable William Shatner) chooses surrender instead and within a few seconds, he and his pal Bones McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) have been whisked away to Klingon and sentenced to a prison on the dreaded Planet of Papier-Mache.

The film then intercuts dynamically between three subplots -- Bones and Kirk trying to bust out, the Sherlockian Spock trying to solve the mystery of the mystery torpedoes and some political maneuvering at the Peace conference -- until it builds a great head of steam.

Part of the credit must go to Paramount for actually hiring a real director -- Nick Meyer, who directed the whale "Trek" ("Star Trek IV") as well as "The Day After" for TV -- instead of handing out the job as a sop to either Shatner or Nimoy, whoever was moodiest. Meyer knows what he's doing: He's imitating the cutting rhythms and several of the action sequences of "Star Wars." He cares enough to steal from the very best.

Most of the regulars turn in the usual fine-tooled job. I'm a little sick of Scotty's ditherings and Bones' rattlings, but George Takei's Mr. Sulu has a very nice, authoritative turn as the commander of his own ship. Nimoy seems to have become Vulcan by this time.

The best old guy, however, is Shatner. It's a nice touch that far from being the avatar of the new age, he's really an old war hound, like a longtime SAC B-52 pilot, who just can't get used to the idea of peace. The movie's sweetest touch is that for all the explosions and escapes, the true journey of the film is inner: It's Shatner's grudging acceptance that the war is over and that peace is at hand, quite a concession for a guy with that many missions under his belt and that much fake hair on his crown.

The Ham-I-Am award goes to Christopher Plummer as "Chang," Klingon warlord and Shatner's opposite number. This guy not only eats the scenery but also the Paramount commissary, the set where Arsenio is taped and three blocks of Melrose.

But the best thing, the best single thing in the movie, is the makeup and costume applied to Kurtwood Smith as "The Federation President." He is gotten up to look like -- would I kid you? -- Colonel Saunders exploding. Really. He looks like an old white-haired Kentucky aristocrat . . . blowing up. Like he's sort of . . . separated . . . the two halves of his mustache and his two tufts of hair are . . . very far apart. It's strange and kind of neat.


'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country'

Starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

Directed by Nicholas Meyer.

Released by Paramount.

Rated PG.