Star Trek fans were decidedly mixed in their reactions to this, the ninth big-screen feature in Paramount's lucrative Trek franchise, but die-hard loyalists will appreciate the way this Next Generation adventure rekindles the spirit of the original Trek TV series while combining a tolerable dose of New-Agey philosophy with a lighthearted plot for the TNG cast. This time out, Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his executive crew must transport to a Shangri-la-like planet to see why their android crewmate Data (Brent Spiner) has run amuck in a village full of peaceful Ba'ku artisans who--thanks to their planet's "metaphasic radiation"--haven't aged in 309 years.
It turns out there's a conspiracy afoot, masterminded by the devious, gruesomely aged Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham, hamming it up under makeup resembling a cosmetic surgeon's worst nightmare), who's in cahoots with a renegade Starfleet admiral (Anthony Zerbe, in one of his final screen roles). They covet the fountain-of-youth power of the Ba'ku planet, but because their takeover plan violates Starfleet's Prime Directive of noninterference, it's up to Picard and crew to stop the scheme. Along the way, they all benefit from the metaphasic effect, which manifests itself as Worf's puberty (visible as a conspicuous case of Klingon acne), Picard's youthful romance with a Ba'ku woman (the lovely Donna Murphy), the touching though temporary return of Geordi's natural eyesight, and a moment when Troi asks Dr. Crusher if she's noticed that her "boobs are firming up."
Some fans scoffed at these humorous asides, but they're what make this Trek film as entertaining as it is slightly disappointing. Without the laughs (including Data's rousing excerpt from Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore), this is a pretty routine entry in the franchise, with no real surprises, a number of plot holes, and the overall appearance of a big-budget TV episode. As costar and director, Jonathan Frakes proves a capable carrier of the Star Trek flame--and it's nice to see women in their 40s portrayed as smart and sexy--but while this is surely an adequate Trek adventure, it doesn't quite rank with the best in the series. --Jeff Shannon
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