|Free Enterprise (1999)
Starring: Rafel Weigel, Eric McCormack, Audie England, Patrick Van Horn, Phil Lamarr, Jonathan Slavin, Deborah Van Valkenberg, and William Shatner
Director: Robert Meyer Burnett
“I am not a Starfleet commander, or T.J. Hooker. I don't live on Starship NCC-1701 or own a phaser. And I don't know anybody named Bones, Sulu, or Spock. And no, I've never had green alien sex, though I'm sure it would be quite an evening. I speak English and French, not Klingon! I drink Labatt's, not Romulan ale! And when someone says to me, 'Live long and prosper,’ I seriously mean it when I say, 'Get a life.’ My doctor's name is not McCoy, it's Ginsberg. And tribbles were puppets, not real animals. PUPPETS! And when I speak, I never, ever talk like every. Word. Is. Its. Own. Sentence. I live in California, but I was raised in Montreal. And yes, I've gone where no man has gone before, but I was in Mexico and her father gave me permission! My name is William Shatner, and I am Canadian!" - William Shatner
Take “Swingers” and “High Fidelity,” add Kevin Smith’s so-called “Jersey Trilogy” (“Clerks,” “Mallrats,” and “Chasing Amy”), sprinkle in Woody Allen’s character from “Annie Hall” and Steve Carell’s obsession with action figures in “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” then add enough sci-fi references to choke a mugatu. If you like those comparisons and you know what a mugatu is, then “Free Enterprise,” my friend, is the movie for you.
The plot of the film revolves around the one and only William Shatner, who shows up both in reality and fantasy. To clarify the latter, Shatner first appears in the film as an imaginary childhood friend/mentor to Robert (played as an adult by Rafer Weigel), who has a vision of Bill – that’s how his character is credited – while in the midst of getting his ass kicked by a schoolyard bully. Bill assures him that fighting is no solution to any problem, but, when Robert reveals that he took a swing at the guy when he said that Han Solo was cooler than Captain Kirk, Bill instantly snaps, “Kick the little fucker’s ass!”
Flash forward about 20 years. Robert and his longtime buddy, Mark (played by Eric McCormack, a.k.a. Will from “Will & Grace”), meet up with Shatner in a bookstore, which leads to the pair working on a project together: a musical version of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” (Ben Folds gets all the credit for bringing the Shatman back into mainstream culture as a kitschy crooner, but screenwriters Mark A. Altman and Robert Meyer Burnett were the ones who got the ball rolling, thanks to their song, “No Tears for Caesar.”) Shatner doesn’t have a huge role, but he milks his part – an exaggerated version of himself – for all it’s worth, and his interaction with Robert and Mark throughout the film is central to the goings-on of the primary plots. Robert is finding it difficult to leave enough of his sci-fi geekery behind him to enter the real world and maintain a proper job and relationship, while Mark is dealing with his impending 30th birthday, which leads to an extremely funny “Logan’s Run”-inspired dream sequence.
This reissue of “Free Enterprise” is a 2-disc set, and, man, is it packed to the rafters with bonus goodies. (More on that in a moment.) You can’t comfortably give “Free Enterprise” more than three and a half stars, however, no matter how many hours of special features it contains, because too much of the dialogue – usually Robert’s – is just so geeky that you simply can’t imagine anyone uttering it in real life. The pop culture references…and, to be fair, we’re not just talking sci-fi here; “The Godfather,” “Animal House,” and even “Citizen Kane” are all cited…are often so obscure that even Dennis Miller would genuflect before the screenwriters. By the way, speaking of obscurity, this may be the only film ever made to feature a party scene where a crowd is shaking their collective asses to…“Shake,” by Andrew Ridgeley.
At heart, “Free Enterprise” is a romantic comedy. It’s kind of hard to relate to the characters sometimes – if you don’t know your sci-fi, you’ll find there are countless lines where the dialogue might as well be delivered by Charlie Brown’s teacher, so little sense will it make to you – but when things get down to brass tacks and people get down to talking about relationships and getting older, it’s surprisingly thoughtful.
Wow, will fans of this movie go crazy! The original version of the film has been upgraded to a 2-disc set. Disc one includes an extended cut of the film with originally-deleted scenes added back in, plus two separate audio commentaries: one with the stars, one with the screenwriter and director. Disc two, though, includes a making-of documentary, deleted scenes, theatrical theater, the actors’ screen tests, the music video for “No Tears for Caesar,” a television pilot for a movie review series called “Café Fantastique” (it’s hosted by the guys who inspired the characters in “Free Enterprise”); in addition, the screenplays are available on the DVD-ROM. Add to this a 20-page booklet which contains a glossary of all the obscure references made during the film, and it’s everything a “Free Enteprise” fan could ever hope for.