Blame it on the aliens in Hollywood, but odd-numbered Star Trek movies tend to suck. The best flicks— from number two, Wrath of Khan (probably the best in the series), to number eight, First Contact— are all even-numbered entries in the franchise, a tiny detail that, like the height of hemlines, bodes well or ill according to logic beyond mere human ken. The latest Star Trek flick, Insurrection, is the 9th, and although it doesn’t suck as completely as some ignoble odd-numbered low points, it doesn’t exactly boldly go where no one has gone before.
Although a printed synopsis of Insurrection‘s plot might read like Greek to the uninitiated, onscreen it scans legibly as would-be blockbusterese. The film opens with starship Enterprise android Data (Brent Spiner) mysteriously flipping out while on a run-of-the-mill anthropological mission to the planet Bak’u. Dashing off to see what has gone wrong with Data, the Enterprise crew discovers an idyllic farming community (introduced through a sugary mist of violins and smiles) with a secret. It turns out weird radiation keeps the Bak’u population young and healthy. The Enterprise‘s Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart, playing up the busybody element) also discovers a conspiracy: his war-depleted Federation and a grotesque group of space pirates have secretly colluded to steal the planet from its inhabitants. The scheme is clearly a violation of what Picard sonorously calls “who we are,” so before you can say Prime Directive, the Enterprise crew disobeys orders and comes to the Bak’u’s rescue.
Throughout, the one-liners pop as frequently as phaser blasts, but instead of being jaunty, Insurrection is hurried and unfocused. There are some typically Trek sparks— the Bak’u love interest with the power to slow time, the regeneration of Chief Engineer LaForge’s eyes, Data’s ongoing education in the ways of natural-born meat— but overall, Insurrection adds little to anyone’s understanding of Trek‘s world or its characters. Non-fans might find it hard to believe that, despite the fetishistic interplay of alien races and starships, Trek is really about people, but the most resonant pleasures in the series have always been personal: James Tiberius Kirk’s love for his First Officer Spock, Picard’s endlessly fraught sense of duty, the ongoing tension between the good of the many, the few, and the one. There are real flesh-and-blood people who, despite being targets for easy jokes, have had their lives changed by Trek‘s pleasures, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being struck by lightning during Insurrection. At most it engenders nostalgia and begins the long wait for number 10.