If it's true that each generation grows more reluctant to embrace the pop culture of those that came before (and, yes, that seems to be the case), then Star Trek provides a real hoot during the scene in which a teenage James T. Kirk rocks out to a Beastie Boys tune a good 200 years in the future. Then again, the Beastie credo would certainly apply to Kirk, who, as he has demonstrated since the 1960s, clearly would fight for his right to party. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before TV wunderkind J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias) came along, there had been five Star Trek TV shows and 10 motion pictures, a total sum that outpaces even such laughable franchises as the Friday the 13th and Halloween series. But nobody will be chuckling at what Abrams has managed to create with this reboot. While I've enjoyed most of the movies -- yes, even some of the odd-numbered ones -- I'm by no means a Star Trek fanatic (you say "Trekker," I say "Trekkie"), yet this new series entry qualifies as one of the better sci-fiers to hit theaters in recent times. The fans will doubtless quibble over some of the changes made by Abrams and the screenwriting team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, yet the overall tone is reverential, not dismissive. Basically, the trio takes us back to the early days of its leading player, detailing the circumstances that defined him first as a kid and then as a young adult (I suppose this could have been called Star Trek Origins: Kirk). Yet Abrams and his writers also introduce a wild card in Romulan warrior Nero (an unrecognizable Eric Bana), whose nefarious actions lead to an alternate reality for the members of the Enterprise. Yet while destiny might take them on different adventures than the ones glimpsed in previous movies and episodes, at least the core crew remain united: the brash Kirk (Chris Pine), the brainy Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the wisecracking Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban, pleasingly cast against type), plus their support staff of Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin). While the studio naturally pushes the angle that this picture can be equally enjoyed by those who are familiar with the Star Trek brand and those who are not, that isn't exactly accurate. A complete newbie would fail to see the significance of having Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) originally at the helm of the Enterprise, nor would he or she feel a pleasurable tingle at seeing a series vet turn up in a key role. On the other hand, Abrams & Co. lace the movie with plenty of humor as well as a few exciting battles, so it's unlikely the uninitiated will find themselves bored. Abrams peppers his film with many familiar names and/or faces, some of them fleeting. Winona Ryder turns up as Spock's human mother, as does Tyler Perry as a Starfleet admiral (my girlfriend had to point him out, as I'm only used to seeing him in drag as Madea). But surely nobody will be able to recognize A Beautiful Mind's Oscar-winning scripter Akiva Goldsman (as a Vulcan council member) except maybe for Russell Crowe and Ron Howard. Then again, this casting seems to echo Abrams' whole approach to this revamped Star Trek: Be playful, be unpredictable, and full speed ahead.
NEXT DAY AIR
From its slapdash opening that rips off the infinitely superior City of God to its guns-blazing finale that feels like a steal from the Quentin Tarantino playbook, Next Day Air doesn't possess one moment or idea that can be called its own. Here's a project so ill-conceived that it finds room in its cast for the talented Mos Def but then bungles that gift by giving him the smallest role among the principal cast members. Of course, you wouldn't know this from the posters and previews, most of which place the actor front and center. The marketing gurus behind this picture are brilliant; maybe they should have been assigned to make this film instead of director Benny Boom and writer Blair Cobbs. At least Mos Def is good while he lasts, appearing in only two scenes as a perpetually stoned delivery man for a UPS-style company called Next Day Air. Much more of the screen time is given to Scrubs' Donald Faison, also playing a perpetually stoned delivery man -- and the one who mistakenly delivers a box of cocaine bricks to a pair of bumbling bank robbers (Mike Epps and Wood Harris) instead of the proper recipient, a Latino middle man named Jesus (Cisco Reyes). When the crime lord (Emilio Rivera) who sent the package learns of this screw-up, he takes it upon himself to handle the matter in person. Despite the fact that they're only required to play "types" rather than characters, all of the actors acquit themselves nicely, including Yasmin Deliz in a feisty film debut as Jesus' girlfriend. But even a gung-ho cast can't work miracles when the screenwriter can't think of anything witty for them to say and the director is incapable of building any sort of momentum from scene to scene. Just mark this one Return To Sender.