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Free Enterprise

Starring Rafer Weigel, Eric McCormack, William Shatner; Audie England, Patrick Van Horn, Phil LaMarr
Screenplay by Mark A. Altman & Robert Meyer Burnett
Directed by Robert Meyer Burnett

IN SHORT: Geek masterpiece, with too many in-jokes [Rated [R] , 100 minutes]

Cranky was picking up his set-asides at the LCS when Stan, the man behind the counter said to "Have a good weekend." I said "I'll try." Stan said "There is no try," and I knew exactly what was supposed to come next. It was then confirmed that I, Cranky, was a geek. That was a week before I saw Free Enterprise with a room full of real geeks (and felt redeemed because I only got a third of the plentitude of in-jokes).

Let me try to explain. Free Enterprise is the story of a couple of LA based, died-in-the-wool, more-than-major-comics-and-sci-fi fanboys and how they overcome Geekdom to find real relationships as their thirtieth birthdays loom larger than LastDay in Logan's Run. Along the way, they befriend William Shatner who has woman troubles of his own and sees these young movie biz insiders as a way to get his long cherished movie project, a musical version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, made. Yes, it's Captain James Tiberius Kirk himself, and the site of Shatner poking fun at the fanboy idolization of Trek and Shatner himself, is very funny. Shatner took some pokes at himself on Saturday Night Live a lot of years ago, but in Free Enterprise he takes down TJ Hooker, too. Let's look at the geeks:

Mark (Eric McCormack), a writer for Geek Magazine. He's ever had a relationship that went farther than sex. He's lent thousands of dollars to best friend Robert (Rafer Weigel) who is intelligent enough to maintain a relationship, but can't find a woman who understands his desire to collect Hallmark Star Trek Christmas ornaments and other tchotchkes. That is, until he meets Claire (Audie England) in a comics shop. Claire is the perfect woman (pros: cute, reads Sandman, Astro City, Preacher. Cons: reads Spawn but not Strangers in Paradise. A more than acceptable tradeoff) PLUS she's got just as much attitude as Mark does. How struck is Robert? He borrows $60 to buy Uncanny X-Men #266 (first Gambit) on which Claire has scribbled her phone number. That's a $40 premium over Overstreet. That's love.

As Robert falls out of his small circle of friends (which include MadTV's Phil LaMarr, a known Trekker) they wonder how to win him back from the Dark Side; he loses job and most of his life because he's fallen deeply in love and he can't get up. The Question for Robert is: When you've destroyed your old life, and then cast away the new, what's left?

Here's where Cranky's opinion diverges, 'cuz he's seen Free Enterprise twice. First time out, I was sitting amidst a bunch of critics even geekier than I. They got most of the in-jokes and lines of dialog copped from classic SF movies. I wondered what I was missing, got totally distracted when an obvious steal came at me and I couldn't identify it, and totally failed to lock in on the story behind the lines. That the gimmick detracts from the story is not a good thing. We take away points for that.

Second time out, Cranky was the solo geek. This way, despite the preponderance of impenetrable in-jokes in the first act of the flick, the story blasted through. It's a good one. It's about how obsession can get in the way of developing a complete life. It's about what you'll give up to make the complexities of a male-female partnership work. It's about what you will do to help a friend whose lost his way. Through it all are the recurring appearances of Bill Shatner, proving once and for all that childhood's heroes are as flawed as Green Lantern's ring.

<sigh> Cranky should've gotten married when he had the chance . . .

As of this writing, Free Enterprise is opening only in New York. It may be that the only way you'll get to see it is on video, which is so totally appropriate for geekdom the irony may be lost on us all.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Free Enterprise, he would have paid...


...which is dateflick level. This is the kind of flick a former gal friend would have "endured" because it's subject was more appealing to me. I think the romantic subplot would have surprised her. As always, your reactions are welcomed on the message boards.

[and composer Scott Spock does a neat trick of lifting enough musical notes from Trek themes to cue you in, but not enough that original composers Alexander Courage or Fred Steiner have to be paid. Producers like that kind of effort. Cranky's cousin Fred doesn't . . .]

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