Wing Commander
Rating -

Action (US); 1999; Rated PG-13; 99 Minutes

Freddie Prinze Jr.:
Chris Blair
Saffon Burrows: Angel Devereaux
Matthew Lilard: Manic Marshall
David Suchet: Sansky
Jurgen Prochnow: Commander Gerald

Produced by Joseph Newton Cohen, Jean Martial Lefranc, Todd Moyer, Tom Reeve, Tomain Scroeder and Neil Young; Directed by Chris Roberts; Screenwritten by Chris Roberts and Kevin Droney

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"Wing Commander" is about humans at war with a reptilian-like alien species: a war that gets to the point where Earth's fate lies in the hands of an assemblage of space marines. The premise, generically, takes place in the distant future, where this race of alien "Kilrathi" look like frogs with goatees, and the human beings are so sluggish and stupid that, if Earth's fate was actually left in their hands, you'd rather trust the aliens.

The production defines cinematic exhaustion; every shot, every ugly, loathsome detail lacks even passable badness, not to mention competence. The main reason lies in the fact that the director, Chris Roberts, creates an atmosphere much like the video game of the same name; space ships float by on the theater screen, as if the projector is sending the screen images onto the canvas using an actual video game screen as the source. The special effects are grainy, the characters have no reccolectable names, and everything is played out like a series of battle sequences that can be seen in any order. The only difference is that, when you're playing the game, you can hit the escape key any time to get out of it. In this case, we have to walk out of the theater and watch 6 bucks go down the drain.

Anyone with half of a brain knows that movies based on video games need more than arcade-style visual effects to succeed, but the filmmakers here seem to think that anyone with half a brain is the enemy; the only possible explanation for making it is the dogged hope that it could find a dimwitted audience and make bundles of money for the studio. Thankfully, it didn't earn that money; the film faded after a weak start at the box office, and became forgotten in the minds of moviegoers quicker than a snap of the fingers. Take this as verification that Hollywood is playing with our minds. If they think we're as stupid as the common video game personality, then they are sorely mistaken.

"Wing Commander" stars Freddie Prinze Jr., Saffron Burrows and Matthew Lilard, as pilots aboard a space ship battling a hideous alien race that wants to destroy earth. There, they are in command of Commander Gerald, played by "Das Boot"s Jurgen Prochnow, a man who looks like he's caught knee-deep in this mess and cannot find a way out. All together, they try to subvert some attention from the action sequences onto themselves. In order to do this, however, the script creates some of the most ludicrous character relationships that I have ever seen. I should not try and describe one of them here, but let's just say that, once Freddie Prinze is revealed to be human and alien, he is tainted by superficial acts of racism and prejudice, thus causing the commander to consider him a space hero to raise his spirits.

Burrows isn't bad as the suave Angel Devereaux, but Lilard is a stereotype of a human proud of his masculinity, flaunting it to the audience like he is some sort of cheap streetwalker. His personality is like one of those bright-colored cars: fast on the road but overfilled with fuel. Except that the fuel is more like testosterone instead of gasoline.

But be warned, the others are just as bad. Most of the minor space marine roles have a tendency to stand on the sidelines and yell all sorts of demented one liners, like "Brace yourself," or "Head to port!" Listening to them reminded me of "Armageddon," where a load of idiodic space cadets landed on an asteroid and shouted minute after minute of hideous, commercial dialogue.

This is the future, yes, but it doesn't look that way; ships, uniforms, and aliens resemble the ones of "Star Trek" and old science fiction movies, as if time has elapsed but culture and technology have remained stationary. The aliens appear on screen for a few moments; we aren't allowed to even see them well enough to study their physical appearances, much less their personalities. How are we ever to feel about the opposing side if we don't get to meet them and get to know them well? How will we determine what exactly these aliens are after, and why?

Every moment of "Wing Commander" is not simply bad, but detached, ugly, dull, lifeless, and filled with character that you wish the aliens would kill off, just so they'd shut up. If the film is not the single worst space blockbuster since the overrated "Armageddon," it comes awfully close.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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