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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Wing Commander (review)

Abort, Retry, Fail?

The only real reason to pay hard-earned cash for a ticket to Wing Commander is to see the trailer for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace that’s playing with it (for a review of the trailer, click here). And that’s kind of ironic, for it’s only because every kid worth his Pentium wants to be Luke Skywalker that we’re cursed with Wing Commander in the first place.

Heroic young pilot with mystical powers saves the universe. Who wouldn’t want that on a résumé? That deep-seated desire in every Star Wars geek spawned the computer game Wing Commander, in which the player flies space-battle missions to save Earth from marauding aliens. And for some inexplicable reason, some soulless, godforsaken Hollywood producer thought this game would make a decent movie.
At 97 minutes, Wing Commander is the longest damn movie I’ve ever seen. A cross between an Air Force recruitment commercial and the aforementioned computer game, this waste of celluloid makes Starship Troopers look like 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s impossible to figure out what’s going on. There’s no context for any of the action, on either a small or large scale. The “story” revolves around an imminent alien attack on Earth that our “heroes” must prevent, but we’ve no idea who the aliens are, why they’re fighting humans, what they want, or indeed anything about them at all. The first half of the film is like eavesdropping on conversations between boring and none too bright high-school students as the young pilots, male and female serving together, hit on one another, threaten one another, and get drunk together. The director hasn’t a clue what an establishing shot is, though, so when we are finally “treated” to a little bit of action, there’s no way to tell who’s doing what to whom.

My friend at some point during this nudged me awake to ask, “When are they gonna blow stuff up?” Stuff does start blowing up eventually, but alas, all the spaceships look the same, so rooting for the aliens to kill all the humans becomes rather pointless when we don’t know where they are or who’s doing the shooting.

And, oh boy, I badly wanted most of the characters to die. Horrible, suffering, nasty deaths, preferably. To call them cardboard would be an insult to a fine packaging and storage material — I have some really nice corrugated boxes with more personality that the people that inhabit Wing Commander. And the mind-numbing awfulness that is these characters receives no reprieve from the acting. The unintentionally hilarious Freddie Prinze Jr. (I Know What You Did Last Summer) as Luke Skywalker, er, Christopher Blair, conveys every emotion — from dismay to surprise to lust — with either slack-jawed dumbfoundedness or frowning bafflement. I kept wanting to reach up to the screen and push his mouth closed. Matthew Lillard as Blair’s bud Maniac Marshall slurs every line and is so oily and unappealing that after a scene in which he and a female pilot engage in some sexual byplay, I was in dire need of a shower. And the rest of the young cast is no better.

Shall I continue my tirade? This is the cheapest-looking movie I’ve seen in ages. Set in the year 2654, Wing Commander‘s spaceships nevertheless look like modern-day aircraft carriers, inside and out. The bridge of Sean Connery’s Red October looked more advanced than that of the human battleship here. When we do finally get a glimpse of the aliens, it makes one long for the fine puppet work of The Muppet Show‘s “Pigs in Space.” As if to offset the cheesy visuals, this is the loudest movie since Armageddon, with sound so deep and bass-y that the elephants 15 miles away at The Bronx Zoo must have been going, “What the hell was that?”

I have just one word for the makers of Wing Commander: Why?


viewed at a public multiplex screening

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