Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) (part 3 of 9)

In the banquet room, a string quartet plays as various aliens and humans mill about. We find out that the newest members of the Federation are a bit on the short side, with asses that take up a good third of their body structure. Picard greets Cuzar, and is in turn greeted in what she calls the “time-honored tradition of my people”, placing what looks like a very large dog collar on Picard’s head.

Caption contributed by Ed

“I’m sorry, mister. He just ran into the road before I could stop. At least his collar is in one piece!”

So, the time-honored tradition of her people is to make the person you’re meeting wear a really dumb looking thing that sort of resembles dreadlocks? God, my sense of humor is just dying right now.

Caption contributed by Ed

“I’m sure your egg warming technology is wonderful, but get this bloody thing off my head!”

The gag is made even lamer as the violinists smirk slightly before resuming the music, and Picard gives Troi a dirty look. Geez, if this is how thoroughly Troi briefs Picard before diplomatic functions, then no wonder the galaxy is in such turmoil.

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Anyhow, LaForge enters, sporting his movie-only eye implants, rather than the carburetor-filter VISOR he wore in the series. After giving the dog collar a glance, he tells Picard that Admiral Dougherty is aboard a ship belonging to the Botox Victims, and is requesting Data’s schematics.

Picard exposits that Data was supposed to have been back by now from his mission observing the Idyllic Villagers. Picard tells LaForge to redirect Dougherty’s transmission to a private room, which he makes a beeline for. As he walks away, a blue faced alien asks him if he read a paper he wrote, and Picard blows him off. Diplomacy? What’s that?

Caption contributed by Ed

“Do you believe those bastards from Blue Man Group said I wasn’t blue enough?”

Cut to the private room, which incidentally has large sliding glass doors, always good for a private conversation. Here we meet via viewscreen Admiral Dougherty, played by Anthony Zerbe. Zerbe is a good actor and he generally makes a good slimy villain, but here he seems to be affected and stiff, using an odd speaking cadence that sounds like he should have an English accent. His voice is just fine, but the way he uses it here just doesn’t work.

Dougherty exposits that Data has run amuck, and is now holding Starfleet people hostage on the Idyllic Villager Planet. Picard offers to help, but Dougherty informs him that the Enterprise isn’t equipped to operate in that area of space. The area, by the way, has been helpfully dubbed “the Briar Patch”. So, the flagship of the Federation isn’t equipped to handle a supposedly harsh part of space, with some vague environmental problems? Why is my BS Detector beeping all of a sudden?

Actually, to be fair, there is a deleted scene on the special edition DVD that gives a bit more exposition on the region, and makes this plot point into plausible crap, rather than the total, unadulterated crap we get in the finished version. Unfortunately, it also has an antihilarious bit concerning Picard and a salad that ends up in his lap. On the whole, I’d say that was a good cut.

After Admiral Dickhead, sorry, Dougherty signs off, Picard asks LaForge if there could be a problem with Data’s emotion chip, to which the engineer replies that Data left it on the ship. Huh? It’s removable now? Unless I’m mistaken, it was fused into his head at some point during the snorefest known as Generations. So unless he spends his free time (which, to be fair, he seems to have tons of) fooling around with a blowtorch in front of a mirror, I think we’re all being played for dumbasses here.

Picard tells LaForge to send Data’s schematics to Dougherty, and calls in an ensign. He says to tell the chef to skip the fish course. Rim shot!

Caption contributed by Ed

“And this is how I want to look in Prince of Egypt.”

After that little non sequitur, Picard tells LaForge he wants the guests to leave as soon as possible. He also wants Worf to continue blowing off whatever he was already blowing off, and tag along on their trip to Dougherty’s location. Why? Because… well… he needs somebody to act as a comic foil for him. Seriously, there’s no reason whatsoever for Worf to be in this movie. But then again, apart from Picard, the entire crew is superfluous to this film, too. So I’m not going to nitpick the Worf thing too hard.

The scene ends with Picard putting his dog collar/dreadlocks back on and rejoining the party. One odd thing, though: there’s supposed to be a funny transition as Picard’s sour look turns to a smile as the doors open. Of course, this would only make sense if the doors weren’t clear glass. So, it’s yet another classic example of a gag better in concept than in execution.

As an aside, this film might set a record for the fastest killing of lame gags. Even David Letterman kills his jokes slower than the five minutes it’s taken the humor to wear out its welcome here. And it only gets worse once Data gets back into the film.

Out in the so-called “Briar Patch”, a ship that looks somewhat like a giant stingray makes a dramatic entrance, passing through a large pocket of gas. It heads for an Earth-like planet, which has rings added for that “alien” effect.

Onboard the ship, we’re introduced to our Guest Villain, Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham). Abraham comes from a theatrical background, yet his worst film performances have always been when he goes for a more theatrical, over the top style of acting. (Some of his less illustrious roles include playing the bad guys in Mimic and Thir13en Ghosts.) That’s some serious irony there, folks. We’re talking irony that makes a drug for narcolepsy that has drowsiness as a side effect look like speed-flavored Sudafed.

Anyhow, the Sledgehammer of Plot Development lets us know Ru’afo is a bad guy, since his first appearance comes as two female aliens staple his scalp back onto his head. Yep, it looks like the stretched out face thing is all the rage with these guys, because the rest of the crew is getting similar forms of treatment.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Today on The Learning Channel, we’ll explore Mr. Abraham’s brain to find out why he chooses such lousy scripts!”

Caption contributed by Ed

“No, you fools! First the toupee, then the staples!”

Also on this ship is Admiral Dougherty. We learn that Ru’afo disapproves of the way Dougherty strictly follows Starfleet procedures. As the film progresses, this sort of thing will really make you wonder, over and over, why Ru’afo felt the need to get Starfleet involved to begin with.

Dougherty says these annoying procedures are there to protect the population of the planet from unnecessary risk. Ru’afo (who was clearly named according to the time-honored Insert-An-Apostrophe-to-Make-It-Look-More-Alien rule) replies that the population of the planet is only 600 people. For an extra jab, he sneeringly adds that if Dougherty wanted to avoid risk, he should have left his android at home. Aww, but he’s a lot of fun on road trips! Really!

This dialogue is decent enough, and Abraham delivers it well (with a goddamn Oscar on his mantle, one would hope he could pull off dialogue in a popcorn flick), but the villainous effect is lessened slightly when one of the alien babes puts a shawl over his head. This really doesn’t scream out “villain” to me. In fact, it makes Ru’afo look more like a really ugly female Russian peasant.

Ru’afo offers the Admiral a session with the Head-Stapling Girls, which Dougherty politely refuses. He says he’d prefer to wait until everyone in the Federation can reap similar benefits. Yeah, speaking for myself, I hate it when the higher-ups get their faces stretched and stapled before me. Damn office politics!

Suddenly, the ship shudders and rocks. There’s a quick cut to the bridge of Ru’afo’s ship as Ru’afo and Dougherty enter, and it turns out they’re being hit by laser blasts. Ru’afo looks perturbed (well, yeah), and we cut to space as a small attacking ship flies by, revealing Data at the controls. Okay, then. So, apparently, while taking a break from holding people hostage, Data decided to grab a ship, head into orbit, and start taking potshots at the first ship he came across. It’s amazing what those secondary protocols can do.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise is about to enter the Briar Patch. LaForge warns Picard that they’re about to lose contact with Starfleet. And, um, why has LaForge been moved to bridge duty? Shouldn’t the engineer be… oh, I don’t know… in Engineering?

Troi’s gotten a big-ass information download on Data’s mission and the Head-Stapling Aliens. Picard tells her that she and Riker have two days to become experts on both. And let’s hope Troi does a better job this time around than she did with the Big-Butt Vegetarian Aliens with the dog collar.

As they leave, Worf spews some Treknobabble that basically amounts to this: he modified a tricorder so that it will shut down Data. Man, those tricorders can do anything. I’ll bet if you tried hard enough, you could get one to write a better plot than this movie.

Picard, clearly impressed, smiles and says, “Good to have you back, Mr. Worf!” In the immortal words of Harvey Keitel, let’s not start sucking each others’ dicks just yet. You have yet to actually track down Data, you know.

Picard plunks himself down in his captain’s chair, and the music turns all dramatic as he gives the order to enter the Briar Patch (Gasp! But we’re not “equipped” for that!). And I gotta say, it’s amazing that a film with this budget still manages to look like an episode of the TV series. The Patch itself might look good for TV, but in cinematic terms, it’s really cheesy. As the ship enters the Briar Patch it seems to be following some kind of black trail, which isn’t explained, but it must have been left by Ru’afo’s ship. And for no apparent reason, the trail vanishes behind the Enterprise.

Caption contributed by Ed

Follow the CGI trail, follow the CGI trail…

Meanwhile, Riker and Troi browse the 24th-century version of Wikipedia for stuff on the Head-Staplers (Ru’afo’s race, in case you’re losing track). Evidently, fifty years prior they conquered two races and integrated them into their culture as a labor class. Their ships are equipped with banned weapons, and it appears they’re drug dealers. Also, they roast babies and serve them with a nice lemon-tarragon sauce. Troi speaks for everyone when she asks why the Federation is involved with a bunch of drugged-up plastic surgery addicts who probably think a fifteen-day waiting period on handgun purchases is too much of a hassle.

As with the info on the Briar Patch, there’s another deleted scene here (actually, just an extension of this one), where we get a bit more info on the Head-Staplers, as well as the real reason the Federation is dealing with them. Trimming this scene was a pretty big mistake in my opinion. That being said, I’m not going to let my knowledge of the scene get in the way of making wisecracks at the film’s expense. I do have some professional standards, you know.

As for what we do get, I’m all in favor of making your bad guys as bad as possible, but this does seem like stacking the deck in the extreme. Sure, the Head-Staplers look appropriately nasty, but it has the side effect of making the Federation seem like complete morons who can’t even be bothered to research their own allies.

During this, Troi puts her arm on Riker’s shoulder, and Riker gets a big smile on his face. This slight flirtation is a decent enough way to get Riker and Troi back together as a couple. Though why they weren’t really a couple before now is about a mile or so past the point where I give a crap.

Caption contributed by Ed

“I swear, honey, all of the women for seven seasons worth of shows, they meant nothing to me. Trust me.”

But the interplay between these two is, in my opinion, the best stuff in the film. In fact, it’s a nice breath of fresh air that makes it one of the few times light comedy actually works in Trek. I guess it helps when two reasonably likable actors have some decent chemistry and can go for more than a few seconds without being pompous and/or irritating. Oh, hi, Mr. Stewart, Mr. Spiner. I didn’t see you there.

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

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