"Star Trek: Insurrection" is a wink- and jargon-filled bouquet to the "Star Trek" faithful, sure to be understood by fans who have tuned in to the "Next Generation" series since its inception and have turned out in droves for its two feature-film spinoffs.
This is not a bad thing -- hard-core fans deserve an occasional reward, after all -- but it should serve as a warning. "Star Trek: Insurrection" is for members only, a protracted in-joke for people who can actually watch grown men dress up and say the words "warp drive," "metaphasic flux levels" and "positronic variance" without cracking up or shrugging in incomprehension.
"Insurrection" begins on the planet Ba'ku, where the Federation is conducting an anthropological study of the planet's 600 inhabitants. A futuristic Eden of agrarian bliss, Ba'ku looks like a cross between a Renaissance Fair and The Farm, its attractive denizens gardening, weaving and pursuing other good works, until the quiet is broken by a phaser battle. Data (Brent Spiner), the Enterprise's android lieutenant commander, has broken ranks with the exploration team, not only revealing his identity to the Ba'ku but revealing the presence of the surveillance headquarters.
When Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Cmdr. William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and the Enterprise crew go to retrieve him, Picard discovers the source of Data's odd behavior and realizes that what he thought was a simple mission of cultural observation has deeper and more sinister implications.
Picard's discovery leads him to challenge the authority of the mission's leaders, Federation Adm. Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe) and Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham), chief of the Son'a tribe. Ru'afo, an oddly wrinkled fellow who is usually seen in a torturous day spa undergoing a scalp-stapling, face-stretching or some similar form of therapy, has his own reasons for observing the Ba'ku, who have discovered the Fountain of Youth in the form of low-level radiation.
"Insurrection," which was directed by Frakes, hinges on Picard's decision to mutiny against the Federation leadership, but the high stakes never translate into gripping action, involving drama or suspense.
Unlike "First Contact" (also directed by Frakes), this installment of the "Star Trek" franchise is so lightweight that it resembles a long-form television show more than a feature film. Skimpy with special effects and uninspired with the battle scenes, "Insurrection" seems more interested in insider humor than in boring old dramatic elements.
And make no mistake, that humor is directed specifically toward "Star Trek" aficionados. At a recent screening, much laughter greeted scenes and lines that are guaranteed to sail over the heads of civilians: Riker's resuscitated romance with Lt. Cmdr. Troi (Marina Sirtis) and some business about his beard were the source of many laughs, as was a bit involving Picard, Data and Worf (Michael Dorn) singing a Gilbert and Sullivan ditty from "HMS Pinafore." (By the way, Worf is on the scene because he meets Picard at a reception for an intergalactic bigwig; Picard then asks him to join the search for Data.) Klingon puberty, Picard's youthful sexual stirrings and Data's discovery of his inner child are also the source of much mirth.
This will all be terribly tiresome for non-Trekkers, but fans will relish the chance to see their beloved characters -- all portrayed with as much dignity as these actors can muster -- having some self-referential fun on the big screen. If much of it is exactly what they see on the small screen, it's doubtful that the most devoted "Next Generation" followers will care.
"Star Trek: Insurrection"
Starring Patrick Stewart, F. Murray Abraham, Donna Murphy, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Released by Paramount Pictures
Rated PG (sci-fi action violence, mild language and sensuality)
Running time 99 minutes
Sun score **
Pub Date: 12/11/98