Wing Commander

on March 12, 1999 by Annlee Ellingson
   Fox could be accused of having a double agenda in its timely ­ and sudden ­ release of "Wing Commander": trying to take advantage of the teen demo¹s seemingly insatiable hunger for flicks starring and about themselves while whetting our appetites for more Star Wars. Unfortunately, this derivative, insulting flick comes off as an appetizer tossed together at the last minute for guests who¹ve arrived too early, growing cold and stale while they wait for the main course ­ i.e., "Episode 1."
   Based on the computer game created by director Chris Roberts, "Wing Commander" stars heartthrob-of-the-moment Freddie Prinze Jr. ("She¹s All That") as Lieutenant Christopher Blair, a rookie fresh out of the Academy who finds himself entrusted with the fate of the Earth. His buddy Todd "Maniac" Marshall ("She¹s All That" co-star Matthew Lillard), the self-proclaimed best pilot at the Academy who follows nobody¹s rules but his own, promises to watch Blair¹s back but in reality does little more than cause trouble. Blair and Marshall find themselves on a spy mission, gathering information about the evil alien race called the Kilrathi. After literally stumbling on the pertinent data during a mission to steal fuel, Blair must use his genetically inherent navigational skills to get it to Earth before the Kilrathi do.
   As an action film, "Wing Commander" lacks any original ideas of its own, borrowing heavily from not only Star Wars¹ dogfights and Star Trek¹s bridge dynamics, but the buddies-looking-out-for-each-other aspect of "Top Gun," the if-they-can¹t-hear-us-they-can¹t-find-us suspense of "Das Boot" and aliens who could be from "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers." When any significant plot points do occur (and there aren¹t many), the filmmakers feel the need to use unnecessary dialogue (particularly distracting when it comes from the stiff, bloated animatronic aliens) to reiterate what¹s happening for the audience. What¹s more, the climax of the film is Blair¹s show, and the script can¹t find enough for Marshall to do, opting instead to drop him completely during the film¹s biggest moments. (For awhile, I thought he¹d died and I¹d just missed it.)
   Neither does the film create a convincing character drama. The crew¹s wary of Blair because he¹s half Pilgrim ­ a race that humans beat in a war a generation ago and gave him his hereditary feel for navigation ­ and as they lose peers, he and Marshall must debunk the fighter pilot¹s code that anyone who¹s died in battle "never existed." These hollow conflicts fail to create anything more than laughable dialogue such as when Blair whines, "My whole life I¹ve taken crap for being part Pilgrim, and I don¹t know why."
   "Wing Commander" succeeds on one point: including strong female characters, even if there are only two. These women match the men blow-for-blow on the battlefield and in the bedroom.    Starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Saffron Burrows and Matthew Lillard. Directed by Chris Roberts. Written by Kevin Droney. Produced by Todd Moyer. A Fox release. Sci-fi. Rated PG-13 for sexual references and sci-fi action/violence. Running time: 101 minutes.
Tags: video game, adaptation, outer space, science-fiction, Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard, Saffron Burrows, Chris Roberts, aliens, action

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