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Saturday, Feb. 24, 2001

'GALAXY QUEST'

Space . . . the funny frontier


Think of it as a "Seven Samurai" in outer space. OK, well there are only six warriors in "Galaxy Quest" but the comparison kinda works. They are a group of has-been actors whose sole claim to fame is a TV series called "Galaxy Quest" that went off the air 18 years ago. But American human beings weren't the only ones watching the show. In another galaxy, aliens on the planet Thermia had also been getting the airwaves. Firmly believing the "Galaxy Quest" crew to be real-life superheroes, the Thermians transport themselves to Earth (actually downtown L.A.) to recruit the actors for intergalactic warfare. Oh yeah, and this is a comedy.

Tim Allen, Alan Rickman (above) and Sigourney Weaver (below) in "Galaxy Quest"

Directed by Dean Parisot, who with this one picture has leaped into my list of favorite directors and for whom I would like to offer my services as dishwasher or shoe polisher (anything humble and abject), "Galaxy Quest" is undiluted Cinematic Yummy on so many levels. There's nothing mean or smug in the jokes, the parody is always under control and the digital sequences are obvious and fun.

In other words, it's not one of those movies that puts the viewer to work. Instead, we can all bask in the knowledge that this is something majestically mindless and that the money spent on tickets and all that junk food bought in the lobby -- hey, that's money well wasted. In this era of unending complications, there are few things out there that make you feel this way.

"Galaxy Quest" is lovable for a lot of reasons, but one of them undoubtedly is the appearance of Sigourney Weaver in the role of ex-bombshell actress Gwen DeMarco. A fluffy blonde (as in Farrah Fawcett, honey) whose main distinguishing feature was (and still is) a chest that threatens to pop out of her zip-up space outfit, Weaver is so bubbly you start to think that whatever she's on, you'd like to order some of the same, please.

In a brilliant self-parody of herself as the actress who inevitably winds up in outer space, Weaver becomes the undisputed centerpiece in scenes where she's on the run from alien monsters inside narrow ducts ("Why is it always ducts?") or running all around in a frantic attempt to deactivate the nuclear meltdown thingie. Looking actually sexier, younger and -- forgive me, girls -- more feminine than she did in her entire career, this ultra-serious Columbia grad also displays a dynamite sense of humor.

Other cast members discharge just as much ammo. England's Alan Rickman is wonderful as the aging actor who dreams of doing "Richard III" but is reduced to wearing a lizard head and weird makeup, and still going by his TV series name of Dr. Lazarus. Nitpicky and fiercely territorial, Dr. Lazarus is perpetually feuding with other actors over camera close-ups ("That scene was mine!"), ad-libs and other trade issues. But when he goes on board a real spaceship and finds that he is the object of reverence by the Thermians, Dr. Lazarus discards his ego long enough to whup some alien bullies.

This change from little man to big hero is an old formula but strangely enough, it always works and doubly so for "Galaxy Quest." If you're in the mood to "analyze" the story a little, you might want to think about why Parisot chose actors to represent the formula -- intending, perhaps, to say acting like a hero and putting one's guts into it is the only way to become that hero in the end.

This is stressed by Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), a candy-assed drunk who once played Commander Taggart on "Galaxy Quest" but now only stays sober long enough to sign autographs. When the Thermians come to enlist his help, he says, "Sure, 's about the gig tomorrow, right?" As soon as he realizes the truth of the situation, however, Jason snaps into the role that had been buried inside him all these years. He fights monsters with his bare hands, takes his bruises and abrasions like a man, and finally wins the affections of Gwen, for whom he always had a little crush.

But then, who wants to analyze when it's all you can do to stop laughing long enough to catch the next gag? By the way, is it just me or do those Thermians resemble the good old Japanese businessman in the days when he was polite, gracious and ready to die for his company (planet)? Or is it just a coincidence that they have straight black hair plastered to their heads and wear dark gray suits, staunchly believing that everything the Americans/actors did was absolutely great and must be imitated to the tiniest detail? Better go back for another viewing to make sure.

"Galaxy Quest" is playing at Cine Quint (8th floor, Parco Part 3) in Shibuya.


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