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Galaxy Quest

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With dry, understated wit and an attitude that is giddy without being sophomoric, “Galaxy Quest” succeeds in being one of the more enjoyable comedies of the season.

In the film, “Galaxy Quest” was a popular TV show 20 years ago that is still enjoyed, analyzed and obsessed over by millions of devoted “Questerions” today. The stars of the show have been unsuccessful in finding legitimate work since then, and to one degree or another, they all resent being stuck in the roles and having to appear at conventions, where the nerdy fans treat them like their characters actually exist.

That is, except for Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), who played the starship’s captain, Commander Peter Quincy Taggart. Being the captain, he’s most popular at the conventions, and he eats up every moment of spotlight time he has — which just adds to the growing resentment of his co-stars.

At one particular convention, a group of human-like aliens approach “Commander Taggart” and tell him they need his help in fighting a group of bad-guy aliens who want to kill them. It is one of the film’s best jokes that these friendly aliens look and act just like obsessive fans of the show — which is why Nesmith casually dismisses them at first as just another bunch of geeks.

In a way, they ARE the show’s biggest fans. They’ve seen every episode and they’ve built their own ship patterned after the one on TV (except that all the functions actually work, rather than just being props and plywood). The difference is, they don’t realize it’s just a show. Their society has no concept of “fiction” (or even lying or acting), and they refer to the episodes as “historical documents.” (In fact, they think of ALL Earth TV shows that way: “You don’t think ‘Gilligan’s Island’…?” says one crew member incredulously; “Oh, those poor people,” whispers one of the aliens with great solemnity.)

Thus, Capt. Taggart and his crew are called upon to actually live the roles they played on TV years ago, and save this race from doom. It’s the same plot as “Three Amigos” and “A Bug’s Life,” and it worked there, and it works here.

The film is not, as it appears, just a parody of “Star Trek” and that show’s legendarily geeky fans. There is some of that kind of humor, but the filmmakers wisely realized that making fun of Trekkies is not particularly funny anymore, since it’s been done so much (and since those folks are so odd, they practically make fun of themselves).

Still, “Star Trek” is the obvious parallel, and there is some marvelous humor in presenting characters who perform the functions of Enterprise crew members, yet who act in ways we’re not accustomed to. Tony Shalhoub is a stitch as the Scotty character, Tech Sergeant Chen, who delivers his lines in a slightly enthusiastic Bob Newhart style. (“The ship’s boosters suffered major damage, Captain, you know, just, F.Y.I.”)

Even better is Alan Rickman as the Spock character, Dr. Lazarus. It is he who most resents being typecast, having always wanted to be a true thespian, and his eye-rolling reaction to all the inanity around him is priceless, especially when he is called upon again and again to say his famous TV catchphrase.

Sigourney Weaver is the ship’s female member, Lt. Tawny Madison, basically a useless blonde who just repeats what the computer says. Her real-life persona, though, is more intelligent, and it’s fun to see Weaver in a different kind of alien-fighter role.

Sam Rockwell rounds out the cast as a man who was once an extra on “Galaxy Quest,” who was quickly killed. He shows up at the convention in costume and winds up aboard the aliens’ starship — yet no one, including himself, knows his character name (they just call him “Guy,” and they keep assuming he’ll be the first to be killed: “We’d better get out of here, before something kills Guy,” says Tawny).

Tim Allen, it must be said, is no William Shatner (boy, I never thought I’d say anyone was “no William Shatner”). Allen is a lightweight, a standup comedian who had a successful sit-com; he’s no major comedy talent, and certainly not in the league of some of his co-stars here, who clearly outshine him. Nonetheless, his bombast and egotism are amusing, and he is surrounded by a fine supporting cast, including the aliens, who are a race of endearingly naive, giggly folks.

What works best here is the understated nature of the humor. So many comedies lately are cloying, mugging, “aren’t we funny?!” shows that whack you in the head with lame jokes or assault your senses with crudity. “Galaxy Quest” is surprisingly clean, and the actors (except for Allen and Darryl Mitchell, who plays the ship’s navigator, both of whom are often over-the-top) tends to play it straight, letting the movie’s natural humor speak for itself.

The film gets a little too serious in the middle, when the crew members must explain to their alien pals that their show was fictional and that they have no idea what they’re doing, but it picks up again after that with a hilarious save-the-ship sequence in which the day is saved by — who would know the layout of the ship better? — one of the obsessive fans.

B (; PG, mild profanity, sci-fi violence, some grossness in them of an exploding alien..)

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