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While Star Trek Beyond could use more soul and a more cohesive story, the film scores high on the zip factor, and introduces a creepy new villain. The latest film in the franchise’s reboot might be the weakest of the three featuring the newish cast, but it is still a lot of fun.

J.J. Abrams stepped down to direct his revamped Star Wars, relegating himself to a producer’s role. In steps Justin Lin, best known for making cars jump between skyscrapers in the Fast and Furious franchise. It’s no surprise that Lin’s take lacks a certain depth that Abrams managed to bring to his two installments. It’s also not a surprise that some of the action scenes motor along with the efficiency of a Dodge Challenger Hellcat.

The film picks up with James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew in the midst of their five-year mission. Kirk (as he was in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) is starting to get a little bored. He’s up for an admiral’s position, and might soon find himself grounded to a desk job.

The movie has barely started up when the U.S.S. Enterprise is attacked by thousands of marauding spaceships, and the crew finds itself shipwrecked on a sparse planet inhabited by few other beings. Unfortunately, one of those few would be Krall (Idris Elba), a nasty-looking alien with evil intentions involving an ancient weapon. The crew must reform to band against Krall, get off the foreboding planet, and save the Federation.

Star Trek Beyond is basically Star Trek on steroids, with crazy action sequences involving motorcycles and thousands of ships rather than just a couple of ships squaring off against one another. Some of this action is top-notch, but occasionally hard to follow, thanks to the editing style Lin employs.

One of the script’s greater aspects isolates the grumpy Doctor “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) on the planet with his spiritual nemesis, Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto). Spock is dealing with some awkward news: Spock Prime, a parallel-universe version of himself, has passed away. So he’s dealing with the realization of his own mortality in a most bizarre fashion. (The movie offers a touching tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy, as well as the rest of the classic Trek cast.)

This, of course, will be the final journey for Anton Yelchin as Chekov, who has a formidable role in this installment. It’s actually a little hard watching the movie when Yelchin is onscreen: It’s strange knowing this excellent young actor has left the planet.

There are times during all of the chaos when it’s hard to connect the dots and comprehend what exactly is going on with the story. There are many subplots at play (Kirk’s spiritual dilemma, Spock’s relationship with Uhura, Bones’ perpetual grumpiness, etc.) along with the Krall confrontation, and portions of it don’t make a lick of sense.

Those portions, however, are often wiped out by the film’s firepower, most notably during a space battle that deftly utilizes Kirk’s favorite Beastie Boys song. (Yes, Adam Yauch helps save the universe.)

This new film has a lot in common with the campy TV series, and has a throwback element to it. Your enjoyment of this chapter probably hinges upon whether you prefer the old TV show or the movies. While some of the goofier plot elements do recall old-school Trek, the action sequences definitely have a more Fast and Furious, modern feel. I was half expecting Vin Diesel on the bridge in a wifebeater.

The next chapter is reportedly in the works, and supposedly aims to bring back Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s dad. While I’m glad to see Justin Lin didn’t totally blow his chance at the Star Trek helm, I’d like to see somebody with a more nuanced touch take a stab next.

Star Trek Beyond is playing across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The Slap (Thursday, Feb. 12, NBC), series debut: If America learns nothing else from NBC’s adaptation of Australian hit The Slap, beyond the fact that a successful, pleasant backyard barbecue doesn’t include children, I’ll consider this “dialogue-starter” a success. The title and overcooked promos make The Slap seem like a joke—or a stretched-out Lifetime movie—but the big-deal cast (which includes Melissa George, who also appeared in the Aussie version, as well as Zachary Quinto, Peter Sarsgaard, Thandie Newton and Uma Thurman, who replaced Mary-Louise Parker at the last minute) and better-than-TV-average writing make this eight-episode oddity worth a look. It all begins at a 40th birthday party for Hector (Sarsgaard), where his unblinkingly intense cousin Harry (unblinkingly intense Quinto) slaps the obnoxious, undisciplined kid of “progressive” parents (George and The Newsroom’s Thomas Sadoski). Naturally, outrage and threats of legal charges break out among the yuppie Brooklynites, but The Slap spins off into a series of juicier character studies from there—and not even the utterly unnecessary voiceover narration (via Victor Garber) can completely derail it. The Slap isn’t perfect, but at least it’s short. Now that Parenthood is gone, it’s the closest thing to a family drama anywhere on network TV. If there’s a Season 2, Quinto could go on the lam town-to-town as vigilante kiddie-disiplinist The Slapper. Everybody wins.

Sexy Beasts (Saturday, Feb. 14, A&E), series debut: Men and women go on blind dates with three suitors of the opposite sex. The twist: All are wearing prosthetic monster makeup, so matches are made based on “personality,” “chemistry” and other nonsense that has no place on TV—until the masks come off, revealing ridiculously attractive people (because this is TV—confused yet?). At the very least, the makeup artistry of Sexy Beasts is almost as impressive as whatever A&E’s Donnie Loves Jenny does to make Jenny McCarthy less scary.

Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special (Sunday, Feb. 15, NBC), special: After a notable 31-year absence from anything Saturday Night Live-related, Eddie Murphy will (allegedly) show up for the series’ 40th anniversary special, along with most of the still-known stars of past and present. (Where for art thou, Joe Piscopo?) What likely won’t even be mentioned is the infamously disastrous 1980-81 season that simultaneously introduced future SNL MVP and legit superstar Murphy and nearly killed the franchise. (1985-86 was similarly eff’dup—and that season introduced Robert Downey Jr.) Unfortunately, probably neither will legendarily toxic SNL weirdo-geniuses like writer/performer Michael O’Donoghue, because time has to be allotted for useless guests like Sarah Palin and Kanye West. The kind of slick affair SNL40 is shaping up to be has nothing to do with the show’s counter-cultural beginnings, but at least give me an appearance from Will Forte’s “The Falconer” (pleeeaaase, Lorne Michaels?).

Mulaney (Sunday, Feb. 15, Fox), series finale: The (official) cancellations of the 2014-2015 network TV season thus far—see if you can detect the pattern: Manhattan Love Story, Selfie, The McCarthys, The Millers, A to Z, Bad Judge and Mulaney. All are comedies and, with the qualified exception of Selfie, lousy ones at that. Mulaney rightfully suffered the worst reviews; between the brazen Seinfeld wannabe-ism, obnoxious laugh track (OK, fine, live studio audience) and star John Mulaney’s inability to portray human comedian “John Mulaney,” it was like a half-hour meta parody sketch about bad television … wait, could that have been the point? Whoa.

Published in TV

J.J. Abrams continues the great thing he started with his 2009 reboot of this beloved franchise. In Star Trek Into Darkness, he gives us more familiar characters from Trek history—but thanks to that ingeniously created alternate timeline, the people aren’t quite the same.

Benedict Cumberbatch is scary as a renegade Starfleet officer looking to kill as many commanders as possible while Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) chase him all over the universe. Peter Weller enters the fray as a power-hungry admiral, and Alice Eve is a welcome addition as his daughter, an Enterprise stowaway.

There are moments when Abrams goes a little overboard with his homage (I hate that tribble!) but it’s not enough to damage another worthy chapter in the franchise. In a year when the summer movie blockbusters were pretty weak, this, alongside Iron Man 3, was king.

For those of you who still don’t know the true name of Cumberbatch’s character, congratulations on making it this far. Get this sucker into your Blu-ray player before the big secret is blown—and don’t go checking out cast listings for the movie, either, because the secret will be revealed. It’s best to let this one surprise you.

J.J. Abrams will be directing the next Star Wars, which means his days of directing Spock and Kirk are probably over. He certainly made his mark on the franchise; in fact, his first effort is the best Star Trek movie ever made. I’ll put this one in a tie for second with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Special Features: A bunch of short featurettes are included on the Blu-ray. To get an exclusive director’s commentary track, you have to purchase this via digital download on iTunes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

When director J.J. Abrams created the alternate timeline with his brilliant 2009 Star Trek reboot, it gave the franchise a chance to construct all new adventures for Kirk and Spock. It also gave Abrams the opportunity to mess around with variations on characters and adventures that we have already seen.

Such is the case with the exhilarating Star Trek Into Darkness, a movie that includes elements of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and “Space Seed” (a classic Trek TV episode).

The film starts with Chris Pine’s cocky Kirk getting himself into more trouble. He ignores Starfleet directives and rescues Spock (Zachary Quinto) from an erupting volcano, allowing a primitive alien species to set their eyes on a big UFO in the form of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Kirk gets demoted by Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), but keeps a relatively high rank thanks to his pal Pike pulling some strings.

Back on Earth, a bomb goes off in London courtesy of renegade Starfleet officer John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch); that same officer attacks a gathering of Starfleet commanders soon thereafter. He is pissed off, and anybody in a Starfleet uniform is his target.

Kirk and Spock find themselves en route to Klingon territory, where their homegrown terrorist has gone to hide. They have unorthodox directives from Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to target and assassinate the terrorist from the skies using torpedoes. (Echoes of drone targeting and the U.S. hunt for Osama bin Laden, right?)

So … you have Klingons, terror in London, commanders getting attacked and volcanoes erupting with Vulcans in their belly. That’s a pretty damned good start to a sequel, no?

The true identity of Cumberbatch’s character might not come as a surprise. Heck, his real character name is listed in the cast on IMDB.com. As for me, I remained in the dark until some jackass uncorked a spoiler on the Internet a few weeks ago. Damn you, Internet reviewer. Damn you! The Internet is a fun thing, but it sure does wreak havoc on those fun movie secrets.

Abrams gets a little heavy-handed with the Sept. 11/War on Terror allegory, but he still keeps his movie effective, and even moving at times. As for his use of a tribble—the furry pests the Enterprise contended with in a famous series episode—it is my least-favorite part of the movie. The way the tribble is utilized makes no sense and feels like a stretch.

Abrams also oversteps a bit with pivotal late scene between Kirk and Spock that is a mirror version of an infamous scene in Khan. I don’t mind him messing with the Trek legacy, but keep it original. Bring back some famed characters, and hint at moments from franchise past, but don’t blatantly copy them. There’s a moment when Spock yells a particular word that got unintentional laughs from me.

Cumberbatch does a great riff on an old adversary, and his deep voice is one for the ages. He’s one of those anything-can-happen movie villains who is frightening, yet oddly virtuous. Weller gets his best role in years as Marcus, a flawed man with an imperialistic agenda that might have some people viewing him as the film’s real villain.

Alice Eve is another memorable new addition as Carol Marcus, the admiral’s daughter and a stowaway on the Enterprise. Some of you might remember a scientist from a previous Star Trek film with that same name. Well, from now on, you’ll remember Eve, who has an obligatory underwear scene that is right up there with Sigourney Weaver’s out-of-nowhere strip in the original Alien.

Pine and Quinto might not have you forgetting Shatner and Nimoy, but they have established themselves in their roles and can probably own them as long as they want. Zoe Saldana has many shining moments as Uhura.

Simon Pegg’s Scotty, John Cho’s Sulu, Anton Yelchin’s Chekov and, especially, Karl Urban’s Bones all contribute to the party. The Star Trek franchise gets the award for Best Reboot Casting.

If you see Star Trek Into Darkness in 3-D, know that this is retrofitted 3-D. It looks OK, but you are probably safe to take in the 2-D version (although the Abrams lens flares do look pretty cool in 3-D; the man loves his lens flare).

For a film called Into Darkness, there are many, awesome shots of the Enterprise during the day. It’s interesting to see a ship usually cloaked in darkness sailing around in daytime skies, and even going underwater at one point.

There’s a pivotal chase scene in which Kirk and Spock pilot a ship that has a Millennium Falcon vibe to it. That had me thinking about the next Star Wars, and what Abrams—who will direct—plans to do with it. Abrams has a grasp on major geek real estate with these two franchises. He’s, like, the Godfather of Geeks, and he could destroy all of us with a bad chapter in either series. He’s a powerful man capable of great good—or insurmountable evil.

Fortunately, he used his powers for good with Star Trek Into Darkness, a solid piece of summer entertainment.

Star Trek Into Darkness is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews