Hollywood studios always have a hard time admitting that a franchise that’s provided bushels of profit over the years might just have run out of steam. “Star Trek” has certainly been a boon to Paramount for three and a half decades: on the small screen it’s successfully gone through multiple makeovers, and it managed the leap from the tube to multiplexes with surprisingly good results. But the newest TV incarnation, “Enterprise,” has proven a disappointment (its second-season ratings have slipped considerably), and now “Nemesis,” the latest installment of the “Next Generation” series of movies, proves pretty much a bust–a tired, derivative picture that suggests it’s time to put at least this crew of Trekkers into well-deserved retirement. They might not look quite as feeble and frail as Captain Kirk and his bunch were in their final embarrassing outings, but in “Nemesis” they seem to be sleepwalking, in virtual slow motion, through a plot that feels like one of their less memorable TV episodes played at half speed to reach feature length. It’s a slow, dull journey.
It’s appropriate, given its second-hand character, that the script devised by John Logan is about clones and duplicates. The Romulan Empire has been taken over by an enigmatic new praetor named Shinzon (Tom Hardy), who happens to be a young clone of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Aided by a serpent-like viceroy (Ron Perlman, completely unrecognizable in thick makeup), Shinzon lures Picard to Romulus under pretext of wanting to make peace with the federation; but he actually has darker purposes in mind, involving a form of super-radiation that can destroy all life over a wide radius. Meanwhile the Enterprisers try to learn the origin of a prototype of their android Data (Brent Spiner) which has been discovered–in pieces–on a remote planet. Eventually these two plot threads converge, none too surprisingly. Meanwhile, newlyweds “No. 1” Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) find their honeymoon plans delayed by all the goings-on.
This is pretty thin stuff, and cast and filmmakers play it with such a stifling sense of solemnity that it loses almost all sense of forward momentum. Scene after scene is staged by helmer Stuart Baird with agonizing deliberation, and the big series of confrontations that wind things up grows increasingly tedious–but then it would be difficult for even the deftest director to generate much excitement out of what amount to a sermon Picard delivers to Shinzon about becoming a better person and a low-speed car (oops: spaceship) crash in space, which is what we’re offered here. Nor is there much humor in evidence; there’s an attempt to encourage laughs with the inter-crew banter, but when the best bit involves the Data duplicate calling himself “B-4,” you can be sure that the quips doesn’t reach a very high plateau. (When things go schmaltzy, on the other hand, it’s positively embarrassing–a weepy sequence right toward the close is especially awful.) Stewart, as is his custom, declaims Picard’s lines with an oracular air that turns virtually all his scenes into bad Shakespearean parody; and in this instance he’s pretty much matched by young Hardy, who makes every effort to mimic his precise diction and stentorian style. (There’s lot of pseudo-scientific gobbledegook in the dialogue, and the approach merely accentuates its absurdity.) Spiner, meanwhile, plays off against himself without much emotional effect; even his last scenes, which attempt to recapture the tone of the final moments of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” from two decades ago, are curiously unmoving. Frakes and Sirtis are each given one sequence as a showcase, but everything connected with their nuptials is too cute by half; old friends Levar Burton, Michael Dorn and Gates McFadden are along for the ride but have little to do. Even brief glimpses of Kate Mulgrew and Wil Wheaton don’t add anything beyond a shiver of recognition (nor does the sound of the voice of Majel Barrett Roddenberry, playing a computer).
“Nemesis” doesn’t make up in visual grandeur what it lacks in narrative thrust. The model work is mediocre, and interiors appear to have been fashioned on the television template, without a recognition that what might pass on a small screen looks awfully chintzy when blown up to auditorium size. Perhaps to compensate, Jeffrey L. Kimball’s cinematography keeps everything shadowy and dark (one strand of the plot, involving the peculiar environmental circumstances of Romulus’ twin planet, Remus–the Roman allusions are among the few clever elements of the script–is designed to justify the decision). Even the score by old pro Jerry Goldsmith seems recycled and half-hearted.
The picture closes with various crew members going off in differing directions, and one is actually killed (though we know what that means from “The Search for Spock,” and in this case the bets are hedged in so crude a fashion that what’s intended is obvious). It would be best if “Nemesis” were truly Picard’s last hurrah; he and the Enterprise bunch all appear to have run out of gas and would be best put out to pasture. As to whether Paramount will recognize that and turn off the spigot, however, only the grosses will tell.