- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

Summer kicks into high gear this weekend with J.J. Abrams’ much-anticipated reboot of “Star Trek.” Mr. Abrams doesn’t disappoint: An incredibly satisfying popcorn picture, “Star Trek” hurtles forward with propulsive energy while simultaneously introducing the audience to the origins of no less than seven beloved major characters with maximum efficiency and little downtime.

The action and humor is mixed just right, recalling Steven Spielberg when he’s on his game. Although some longtime fans of the series might balk at the slapstick, Mr. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman manage the franchise with care while throwing the doors open to a much wider audience.

Before the comedy, however, comes the tragedy. The movie opens aboard the USS Kelvin, where George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) serves and his wife Winona (Jennifer Morrison) waits to give birth. The Kelvin is blindsided, left crippled and captainless by a massive ship emerging from a black hole; in order to buy time for the crew to escape, Kirk assumes control and pilots the ship singlehandedly. His sacrifice saves 800 lives, including those of his wife and son.

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Cut forward 12 years to James T. Kirk (Jimmy Bennett) tearing through the dusty back roads of Iowa in his stepfather’s vintage Mustang and then once again to Kirk (Chris Pine) all grown up and looking for a fight. His lack of a strong male role model has left him in need of some discipline - discipline that Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) hopes Starfleet can provide.

Spliced between the scenes of Kirk’s maturation are Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) own trials and tribulations, the thrust of which are that it’s not easy being half-human, half-Vulcan. Vulcan children, it seems, are no less prone to teasing than their human counterparts (the same goes for Vulcan adults and racial prejudice).

Kirk and Spock get most of the screen time, and through them, we are introduced to the rest of the original series’ crew: Bones (Karl Urban), the sarcastic doctor; Uhura (Zoe Saldana), the sassy language specialist; Sulu (John Cho), the mildly awkward pilot; Chekhov (Anton Yelchin), the baby-faced junior officer; and Scottie (Simon Pegg), the crazy engineering genius.

The crew must come together and trust each other if they are to defeat Nero (Eric Bana), a ticked-off Romulan from the future and the captain of the vessel that took George Kirk’s life.

Yes, there is time travel. It’s a tricky convention to pull off, but Mr. Abrams and company do so quite nicely; without spoiling too many details, the filmmakers have crafted a scenario in which they can tell the back story of the original series, simultaneously create a parallel Star Trek universe - and supply a welcome excuse for the reappearance of the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy.

It’s a clever trick, one designed both to please hard-core fans wary of filmmakers mucking with the original show’s “canon” and to allow the filmmakers free reign in crafting the story as they see fit without worrying about literal-minded fidelity to the source material.

The casting is almost spot-on, as the actors breathe a unique life of their own into characters that have existed for almost five decades now. Mr. Bana’s Nero might be the only disappointment, although it’s not really his fault: The character is little more than a MacGuffin to set the new franchise into motion. (Of course, when your MacGuffin has genocidal tendencies, it’s never a good sign that he’s entirely forgettable.)

The special effects work is solid, although not groundbreaking. The space battles are impressive, and the hand-to-hand combat is both well-choreographed and coherently shot.

There’s only one real disappointment: that we will have longer to wait than next week for the next episode in Kirk and Spock’s adventure.

RATING: ★★★½

TITLE: “Star Trek”

RATING: PG-13 (science-fiction action and violence, and brief sexual content)

CREDITS: Directed by J.J. Abrams, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman

RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes

WEB SITE: www.startrekmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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