Hey folks, Harry here. I saw FREE ENTERPRISE up in Winnipeg, Canada at their festival up thereabouts. At that time the movie did not have distribution and the folks running the show were scratching their noggins and wondering, "What'd we do wrong?" Well, luckily for all of us fans, they didn't do it wrong and it now has distribution and a geek's geek movie will be seen at a theater near you. Just as it was seen by Moriarty, who I now turn the gavel over to...
Hey, Head Geek...
I was all poised to start into my standard style of introduction to this review when I actually paused and read my opening to you again. "Hey, Head Geek." I've probably typed that a hundred times without thinking about it. It's a word that's been on my mind, though, in the few days since I've seen Regent Entertainment's FREE ENTERPRISE, which will be in theaters in early June. This is the film that many of you have heard about featuring William Shatner as himself in what was initially described to me as a sci-fi riff on THE PRODUCERS. I don't think that's the film at all, though. It's more schizophrenic than that -- a little bit SWINGERS, a little Woody Allen, and in some ways even more deeply inside than THE PLAYER was. The film addresses what it's like to be a film geek in a way I've never seen on film before, so it's guaranteed there will be fan interest for it. The question is, then, does it work?
I think that's going to depend in large part on the viewer and what they bring to the film. Obviously your reaction to any movie is going to depend on you, but the best films manage to impart an universal truth about experience even while staying specific to the characters and milieu onscreen. That's only partially the case here, as much of the film's humor is specific to not just the world of fandom, but the world of LA industry insider fandom.
That's not to say the film doesn't have plenty of comic charm. Rafer Weigel and Eric McCormack (who plays Will on NBC's WILL & GRACE) have an easy,natural chemistry that goes a long way toward selling the picture as a whole. This film was co-written by Mark Altman and Robert Burnett, and it's no coincidence that the lead characters in the film are named Mark (McCormack) and Robert (Weigel). The actors work so well together that they convince us of their friendship, one of the key elements of the film. In addition, Weigel strikes some real sparks with his love interest Claire (Audie England, both sexy and approachable here), grounding another major element of the film.
Then there's William Shatner.
I will confess that, beyond his inherent camp value, I've never really enjoyed Shatner's work. Oh, sure, he's got that classic TWILIGHT ZONE appearance under his belt, and some nice character work in film and TV throughout the late '50s and early '60s. When it comes to STAR TREK, though, I just don't count myself a fan. Not to say I don't know the stuff, because I've seen all of it many times thanks to my friends and the simple fact that it's freakin' STAR TREK. My dad was a big TJ HOOKER fan, so I was pretty aware of that as well. As he's gotten older, he's become more entrenched than ever in Shakesperean hamminess. For that reason, I confess I felt some real dread towards his part of the film going in. To my very real delight, Shatner is a joy in the film, easily my favorite thing about it, subtle, funny, and poignant. If this work doesn't earn him some great character roles and fast, there's no justice. It's a better comeback in many ways than Burt Reynolds in BOOGIE NIGHTS. I can't say I liked the final rap musical number, but before that, he doesn't make one false move in the film.
That's not to say this film is the same kind of overall accomplishment. FREE ENTERPRISE is a modest film in every way, and that's where it works best. At heart, this is a simple romantic comedy that hinges on the peculiar moment when fanboys grow up. The film celebrates the particular pleasures of collecting toys and comics and laserdiscs and lunchboxes, but it also deals in an honest way with the need to lead a real life, with real relationships, and to embrace something as simple as adult responsibility. It's that honest, emotional core of the film that would make me recommend it despite any reservations about its occasional lapses into sitcom shtick, and it's also here that the film finally makes its connection to that which is universal. It doesn't matter if one (or both) members of a relationship are film geeks... they're still just people in a relationship.
There's another reason we as fans should check out this film and support it in the theaters. Mark Altman and Robert Burnett... they're us. They're just two friends who have worked in and around the industry long enough that they finally put together the resources and made their movie. There's a lot of genuine love on display here, and making the film so nakedly autobiographical (or cleverly, depending on how much is fiction) stacks the deck to an extent. How can you not like these guys and want them to do well when you understand just how important their dream is to them. It's the same dream that so many of us share, and there is something truly liberating about seeing it so clearly being lived out.
I have to close now, Harry. Tomorrow I'm planning to infiltrate the Mann's National (ironic, huh?) theater disguised as a bag of popcorn to see the 8:30 press screening of THE PHANTOM MENACE, and I'll send you a review as soon as I'm done. Until then...