Free Enterprise Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2000

This article appeared in Issue 19 of Frontier, the Australian science fiction media magazine

Oh my god... it's Bill!
Alright, be cool. Don't stare or you'll go blind.
And he's perusing porno!

Free Enterprise box art

Love him or hate him, you have to admit that William Shatner has made quite a name for himself during his four decades in show business. Born in Canada (Montreal to be exact), this icon of American television got his start during with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation during his teenage years, which was followed by three seasons at the world-famous Stratford Festival. After returning to school briefly for commerce studies at McGill University (which has a building named after him) Shatner moved to New York to pursue a full-time career in acting. There, he appeared in a number of Broadway productions, such as "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "The World of Suzie Wong". In 1957, with Hollywood knocking on his door, Shatner launched himself into a number of television and film roles, including his appearances in the memorable "Twilight Zone" episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and the classic 1961 film "Judgement at Nuremberg".

What are you doing here?
I'm not really here. I'm one of the top ten imaginary friends kids have, just behind John Travolta, Reggie Jackson, and Farah Fawcett Majors.

Of course, Shatner found his career-defining role in 1966, when he accepted the lead in a new science fiction series created by Gene Roddenberry, "Star Trek". Playing Captain James T. Kirk, Shatner and the cast of "Star Trek" would 'boldly go where no man has gone before' each week with stories that were grounded in the cultural context of the day, yet provided an optimistic vision for the future. Unfortunately, "Star Trek" was ahead of its time, lasting only three seasons, despite a dedicated letter-writing campaign by the series' fans. Fortunately, the popularity of "Star Trek" grew when the series was shown in syndication, which helped pave the way for Shatner to reprise his role as Kirk in seven of nine "Star Trek" feature films, one of which he directed (or misdirected, depending on who you talk to).

Do you wish Rhett never loved Scarlett? Rick didn't have Ilsa, or Harry never loved Sally? Someone once said 'it's better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all'. Succeed or fail, we must... make the attempt, it's our nature. Now, if it were up to me, as it usually is, I would order this. But it's not... because Claire is right... in pointing out the enormous danger potential in any relationship with a man as intelligent yet fantastically flaky as Robert! But I must point out... the possibilities, the potential for true love and happiness are equally great! Risk... risk is our business! That's what relationships are all about! That's why we're out there! That's a Kirk monologue... works every time...

William Shatner

However, there was more to the actor than just "Star Trek". In between his Kirk gigs, Shatner has kept himself busy with a number of other television shows, including the cop drama "T.J. Hooker" and the reality series "Rescue: 911", as well as with films, such as "The Kidnapping of the President" and "National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1". As a director, he has worked behind the camera on numerous episodes of "T.J. Hooker" and "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues". During the Nineties, Shatner branched out into writing, penning a number of autobiographical tomes, such as "Star Trek Memories" and "Get a Life!". Shatner the author also found a home in writing science fiction, both in the "Star Trek" universe and in his own best-selling "Tek" series, which he eventually executive produced as a syndicated series.

Finally, building on his commerce background from his university days, there's Shatner the entrepreneur. Over the years, Shatner has made a number of shrewd investments, some of which include the founding of the Canadian digital effects company CORE, some early investments in calling card technology, as well as his more recent and profitable investment in

Mr. Shatner, I would like to say that I think you are the greatest American actor ever.
I'm a Canadian.
Well, then may I just say that I think you are the greatest Canadian actor ever.
There aren't that many of them.

Given both his iconic standing in the lexicon of popular culture, as well as his numerous achievements over the years, it's not surprising that Shatner holds an exalted position in the hearts and minds of many a "Star Trek" fan. Mark A. Altman, author and former editor of "Sci-fi Universe" magazine, and his long-time friend Robert Meyer Burnett, an experienced editor in the B-movie side of the film industry, were two such fans. Taking their love of Shatner and science fiction to the extreme, they decided to make a movie.

I'll tell you what's bothering me, Beach Blanket Bimbo Fiesta boy... I'm turning thirty in three weeks.
Ah, the firey ritual of Carousel... perhaps you'll be renewed.
I'll see if you're laughing in six months when your palm is blinking red.

Based on a semi-autobiographical script that Altman and Burnett collaborated on, and with Burnett behind the camera, "Free Enterprise" is a spunky independent film that celebrates the allure of "Star Trek" and the movie-buff culture. Like "Swingers", it is a witty look at the arena of dating and relationships, only this time it is in the context of late-twentysomethings who can only come to terms with themselves and others by referring to their favorite "Star Trek" episodes. The film is also part-"Play It Again, Sam", only instead of Woody Allen getting advice from Humphrey Bogart, the protagonists meet up with their long-time hero William Shatner. And while the acting does waver and Burnett's direction would be more at home on your typical sitcom, the snappy dialogue, cleverly-inserted movie and pop-culture references, and reverential treatment of geekdom make "Free Enterprise" a film that no die-hard sci-fi fan or movie buff should miss.

What is your problem tonight?
My problem? I don't have a problem. You, on the other hand are an insufferable spoiled brat who can only talk about herself. I mean, the biggest joke is that you have more problems that anyone I know, and yet you want to become a therapist. What are you going to do? Counsel people to kill themselves? Because that's what I feel like doing after having to listen to you whine for an hour.
Is that what you really feel?
Yes. Now if you don't mind, can we go back to your apartment and have sex, because I'm very tired and I have a lot of work to do.

Eric McCormack

"Free Enterprise" starts off with our heroes Mark (Toronto-born Eric McCormack, seen recently in "Holy Man") and Robert (Rafer Weigel) rapidly approaching the 30 year mark. The Spock-like Mark, the more responsible of the two, is the editor of the science fiction magazine "Geek". Despite his success career-wise, he is a repressed individual who finds it difficult to connect emotionally with women, preferring instead to go on dates with his insufferable ex- for just the convenient sex. With his 30th birthday only a few weeks away, he has recurring nightmares straight out of "Logan's Run", and is gripped with fears of becoming over-the-hill.

How can you know the name of every episode of that fucking television show, but you can't even manage to pay a $16 gas bill? Who care who knows what season Requiem of the... Martians debuted.
The episode was called Requiem for Methuselah. Third season. Debuted on February 14th 1969, Valentine's Day.

Robert, on the other hand, goes to the other extreme as he goes through jobs faster than he does underwear. Despite his dire financial straits and constant need to mooch off his friends, Robert continues to spend all his income on laser discs, action figures, and comic books, often at the expense of his other obligations, such as the rent or the electricity bill. This, of course, leads to his other problem, being unable to maintain a long-term relationship with any woman, since they end up leaving in disgust over his immature antics and misplaced priorities.

Who do you see starring in it?
Well, I'll play Julius Caesar... and all the other parts too. I'll play Cassius, with a beard... Lucius with a long robe... Trebonius with a hat... and a full suit of armor for Marc Anthony.
So you're going to play all the roles yourself.
Well, I can't play Calpernia... I thought we'd get Sharon Stone for that.
She could actually be a little difficult to get.
Then we'll get Heather Locklear. I know Heather! She'd be great!
If you play both Caesar and Brutus, won't you have to stab yourself in the back?
I've done it before.

Rafer Weigel and Audie England

Despite their differing personalities, they both share the same passion for "Star Trek", and have revered their God-like hero Captain Kirk since childhood. Enter William 'my friends call me Bill' Shatner, who Robert and Mark run into during a chance stop at a local bookstore. At first, they are awestruck by being in the presence of their long-time hero, but as they get to know him better, they come to realize that he is as much a 'geek' as they are, sharing similar weaknesses and insecurities. Unlike his heroic on-screen persona, Bill has trouble in meeting women, and must rely on Robert for dating tips. Furthermore, Mark and Robert and mortified to learn that Bill has a 'wonderful' idea to stage a 6-hour musical rendition of William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" where he will play all the parts, with the exception of Calpernia, who will be played by either Sharon Stone or Julia Roberts.

Where are you going?
It seems I'm going nowhere.
Don't you dare quote Star Wars to me... you can't get away with that shit! You know, maybe you should start living in the present, instead of the 24th century!
I would never live in the 24th century! I fucking hate the Next Generation. Only original series... only the classics!

You don't have to be a fan of science fiction to enjoy the pleasures of "Free Enterprise", but it certainly helps, as does a love for movies in general. The script's brisk dialogue and snappy one-liners drops dozens of sci-fi and movie references, since its characters can only express themselves and relate to the outside world in these terms. In fact, you may want to watch the film a couple of times to catch them all.

What do you expect, Bartles... you spent the rent money on a Mego Almighty Isis action figure from 1974. It was a bad call, Ripley, a bad call!
Why are you taking her side?
I'm not taking her side. I'm just saying that you shouldn't be surprised given the facts at hand.
She stole the Enterprise, man!
My Hallmark Classic Enterprise Christmas ornament... price guides put it going for $400 these days.
That is rough.

For example, when Robert's live-in girlfriend leaves him at the beginning of the film, Mark chastises him with 'you made a bad call, Ripley, a bad call', in reference to Paul Reiser's admonishing of Sigourney Weaver in "Aliens". Similarly, when Robert ignores his friends after falling madly in love with Claire (Audie England, who played Princess Kitana on the "Mortal Kombat" TV series), a fetching woman who enjoys sci-fi and reads comic books, he is described as 'pulling a Claude Rains', in reference to the actor's work in "The Invisible Man". And one of the film's pivotal scenes has Mark and Robert working out their differences by allegorizing their situation to the tune of second- and third-season "Star Trek" episodes.

When Kirk lost Edith Keeler, did he curl up into a little ball with a flask of Saurian brandy? No, he hailed the ship and said 'Let's get the hell out of here'! The next week, his brother Sam dies at the hands of neural parasites in "Operation: Annihilate!". Not a great month, but did that stop him from boldly going? And I bet you don't even remember what happened next week.
They were off for the summer hiatus before they began filming.
The next episode was "Amok Time". Kirk fought his best friend to the death. Of course, McCoy faked Kirk's death so that Spock would snap out of his Plaktau, his blood fever, his wild emotional fixation over a woman, let's admit, who was not worth his love in the first place!
I am fully aware of the plot of "Amok Time", thank you very much! I mean, what are you saying here? Are you saying that I am Spock in this scenario?
Yes you are, and Claire is T'Pring, and me, well, of course, I'm Kirk. Actually, it's very Freudian if you think about it.

Unfortunately, at times it seems that Altman and Burnett were a little too ambitious in putting this little gem together. The satirical look at love and life in Los Angeles in "Free Enterprise" is nothing new, and at times the story lags as the filmmakers try to incorporate every little detail or in-joke into the story, often to the detriment of telling a cohesive story. Also, the mix between the 'Shatner' side of the story and the 'misadventures in relationships' side is unevenly handled, as there are some long stretches where it seems that Altman and Burnett completely forgot that Shatner was in the story. Finally, Burnett, who is a first-time director, relies on a limited repertoire of static shots, betraying the film's low-production values. Fortunately, it's not the visceral elements that carry the film-- like the films of Kevin Smith ("Chasing Amy", "Dogma"), it's all in the dialogue.

Guys, you gotta mix a little reality in with your imagination to achieve happiness in your life. And you've got to overcome your programming, which in your case, is a 30 year-old television show.

But minor quibbles aside, Altman and Burnett have assembled a fine cast. McCormack and Weigel are almost perfect (Weigel's acting stumbles in a couple of scenes) as the Kirk-Spock odd couple protagonists, as they are able to convincingly convey their characters' foibles while still remaining sympathetic.

You may not believe this, but I'm just getting over a terrible break-up of a long-time lady love.
Some woman had the audacity to leave you? I can't believe that... doesn't she understand who you are? I mean, the Captain doesn't lose a woman, unless she gets run over by a truck.

Shatner, who initially didn't want to be part of the film unless his character was made less god-like and more geek-like, continues his long-tradition of parodying himself, which has included his recent appearance on "3rd Rock from the Sun" and the classic "Get a Life!" skit on "Saturday Night Live". It's obvious that Shatner had a lot of fun in this film, from when he first shows up in a couple of childhood fantasy sequences to his closing rendition of a gangsta-rap version of Marc Anthony's "Friends, Romans, and Countrymen" speech that is campy, kitschy, and cool-- all at the same time.

Worlds may change... galaxies disintegrate... but a woman... is always a woman.
How nice.
Can I buy you a drink, or two?
No, that's alright. This is my establishment... I own all the drinks.
And all the glasses too!
That's right...
Would you perhaps like to buy me a drink?
Not particularly.

Rounding out the cast are a number of familiar faces. Patrick Van Horn reprises his work in "Swingers" by playing a suave nightclub junkie who pretends to understand sci-fi, but doesn't. Phil Lamarr of "Mad TV" does a memorable turn as an intensely emotive friend of Mark and Robert who is a die-hard Yes fan. Finally, veteran actress Deborah Van Valkenberg (Jackie on "Too Close for Comfort") shows up as the hard-to-impress love interest for Shatner.

You're losing it... a year and a half ago you'd already be re-enacting the kitchen scene from 9&1/2 Weeks. Of course, my own sex life feels like 8&1/2 Weeks, Fellini meets Psycho.

Issue 19 of Frontier Magazine

Remaining faithful to their love of laser discs and the Criterion Collection catalog, the "Free Enterprise" DVD is chock full of goodies. A documentary on the making of the film contains a number of bloopers, some side-by-side comparisons of the real-life people the characters were based on and the actors that played them, and a hilarious sequence showing The Artist Formerly Known as Shatner trying (and failing miserably) to get 'jiggy' with gangsta rapper Rated R. The disc also includes thirty minutes of deleted scenes, including one that had a brief appearance by Chase Masterson (Leeta the Dabo Girl on "Deep Space Nine"), as well as some commentary on why the scenes were deleted. Finally, for the less media savvy, the disc contains a glossary explaining all the references made in the film, as well as a playback mode where the references are explained in real-time via the use of subtitles.

Wait... you can't go... how about some company?
Well, unless you're talking about handing over shares of Microsoft or Disney, I'm not really interested.

Sparkling with wit, charm, and great dialogue, "Free Enterprise" is a labor of love in the tradition of "Clerks", and enjoyable romp for die-hard science fiction fans and big movie buffs. Though it found limited play during its brief theatrical run, thanks to the wonders of DVD and Internet technology, "Free Enterprise" can finally find the larger audience that it deserves.

Images courtesy of Mindfire Entertainment. All rights reserved.

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