Mindless ‘Wing Commander’ competent but bland

Well, the movie gods have deserted me again. After seeing Wing Commander, my fourth bad 1999 movie in a row, I find myself compelled not only to write about how it was such a bad movie, but to write an analysis of bad movies in general. Let’s go.

In my opinion, there are three kinds of bad movies. The first and most objectionable kind (for me, at least) are evil movies. These are movies which on the surface seem good – because they are so carefully designed by the corporate moneymen to be enjoyed so that people will see them over and over again and buy the soundtrack, the book, and the commemorative mug. The problem is that underneath this pleasing, star-studded, expensive veneer is nothing but a hollow shell. These movies tend to be very popular among ordinary moviegoers but hated by critics. Recent examples include Patch Adams, Armageddon, Batman & Robin and of course, Varsity Blues. If you’re really cynical, this also includes Forrest Gump and anything directed by Steven Spielberg.

The second type is the extravagantly bad movie, the kind that provokes the question, “What were they thinking?” Usually these are the movies that are remembered because their badness is extraordinary and ridiculous. These are the bad movies I personally seek out when I’m in the mood because the filmmakers have still tried to do something new and different, and even if it does turn out to be really stupid, so they end up pretty funny. These movies include Showgirls, The Avengers and to a certain extent, Cruel Intentions.

The last type of bad movies is the least interesting, because these are the bad movies that nobody cares about: movies that are so boring and mediocre, so much like every other movie that you’ve ever seen, that they don’t even register for most people. These are the movies you brush past at the video store, the ones with interchangeable titles like Animal Instinct or Body of Justice or Cyborg Ninja. These movies suffer from lack of imagination, and they only get interesting when they are really incompetent, as anyone who’s ever seen Plan 9 from Outer Space can tell you.

It is to this last class that Wing Commander belongs. It’s entirely appropriate that the newest Star Wars trailer was shown in front of Wing Commander because this new movie is exactly the same as every other sci-fi movie made since Star Wars came out. Here, we have the young hero (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) seeking to prove himself, a love interest (Saffron Burrows), a wacky buddy (Matthew Lillard), a completely evil enemy, and a series of space battles that are half submarine, half World War II dogfight.

I haven’t played much of the “Wing Commander” series of computer games, but I’m pretty sure that 95 minutes of playtime will produce more pleasure than sitting through this movie. It’s not that the space battles aren’t fun, it’s just that there aren’t all that many of them. Instead, Wing Commander pads itself with a large number of character actors and subplots, like chintzy Christmas tree ornaments hooked onto the thin stem of a plot. The most important subplot involves our hero’s status as a “Pilgrim,” one of a despised race of brilliant interstellar navigators. Of course, there is one character whose role is to constantly say things like “Captain, I don’t know if we should trust this…Pilgrim.” Fortunately for our hero, he’s saved by a constant string of plot contrivances, up to the point that his mentor, the crusty old spacedog…turns out to be a Pilgrim too! Whodathunkit?

Of course, this outline doesn’t do the movie justice, because I’ve written in a clear and concise manner. In the movie, things happen arbitrarily and with little real audience involvement. You sit in the theater, stuff happens on the screen, something explodes, and it ends on a high note. The movie doesn’t really produce any emotional reaction because plot lines are forgotten about, both by the viewer and by the filmmaker. The overall experience is bland and numbing, and you can’t really get mad at the movie, because there’s not really anything to be mad at.

To be fair, Wing Commander is technically competent, and all of the space battles are well animated. Of the actors, Matthew Lillard (from Scream) is the least boring to watch because he looks like he’s actually having fun. And if you don’t really care, you can enjoy this movie: kids would like it, people who have been in caves and haven’t seen any other movies in twenty years, and so on. It’s about as mindless as mindless entertainment can get.

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