Free Enterprise

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This movie sadly got overshadowed by the much more popular Galaxy Quest, which went into general release later in the same year. Both were affectionate spoofs/tributes to the phenomenon of Star Trek fandom, although Free Enterprise’s targets cover a broader spectrum of popular culture. That’s also the film’s chief flaw, a lack of discipline and a need for some editing.

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Despite this, the movie has enough going for it to make it a must see for movie geeks who came of age during the eighties and nineties. It details the misadventures of two socially arrested men who feel their thirtieth birthdays creeping up on them. The protagonists are loosely based on the film’s creators, writer/producer Mark A. Altman and writer/director Robert Meyer Burnett.

Robert (Rafer Weigel) is a chronic womanizer who spends his grocery money on Planet of the Apes laserdiscs and action figures. His nerdiness seems to be his shield against commitment, as his obsessive tendencies tends to drive the women out of his life after one night in the sack. Mark (Eric McCormack) is Robert’s primary source of extra cash, an anal-retentive, emotionally closed guy who’s trying to pitch a Brady Bunch horror film. Both men share one aspect in common: their imaginary childhood friend was William Shatner.

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At one point, our two heroes encounter their hero as he is perusing a porn magazine in a bookstore. Enter the film’s ingenious conceit. Shatner plays himself as a loser, a self-absorbed loner with no grip on reality. His big concept is a full-length musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, with him playing every role. He’s also a complete failure with women and the two heroes have to deal with the fact that their idol is a total schlub.

The film’s other plot thread jumps off when Robert encounters Claire (Audie England), who is every geek’s wet dream, a smokin’ hot babe who shares his passions for all things geeky. (Be advised that, in the real world, sightings of such creatures should be filed under the same heading as the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot). Having found his dream girl, Robert’s fear of commitment seems to evaporate as he effectively disappears from the lives of Mark and his other friends.

That leaves Mark facing his thirtieth birthday with no relationship and his lifelong friend in absentia. The oncoming demise of his twenties is symbolized by a witty spoof on Logan’s Run. So will Mark deliberately sabotage Robert’s relationship or will Robert beat him to the punch as his old tendencies manifest themselves?

The film’s ending is a little drawn out and the resolution of the Robert/Claire storyline is somewhat unsatisfying, but we do get the spectacle (that’s the only word for it) of William Shatner teaming with Rated-R for a rap version of Marc Antony’s soliloquy from Julius Caesar. Imagine his early Priceline commercials, only much stranger.

Judged by absolute standards, Free Enterprise is a flawed movie, but as a first effort for its makers and a cult classic, it’s definitely worth a look.

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