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Free Enterprise (1998)

by on 2011/02/08


“Women think we have it so easy, you know?  We’re supposed to walk up to them and get their phone number, but do they understand what happens to us when they say no?  I don’t know about you, but I can dwell on that no for weeks.”

* * * * *

The year was 1987.  The girl was a Star Trek fan.  I figured I’d help things along by watching Star Trek:  The Next Generation.

Bad move.

The wrong Trek and, inevitably, the wrong girl.

But my experience did offer hope . . . the hope that there were others, Actual Females, familiar with things like Dragonlance, Fighting Fantasy, Monty Python, Psychonauts, Scott Pilgrim, SpongeBob, Twin Peaks, Unreal Tournament, and more.  Even The Next Generation.

Good news, guys.  They are out there.  And they’re multiplying…

Times weren’t always so prosperous for a young geek in search of love.  At the tipping point between famine and feast sits director Mark A. Altman and writer Robert Meyer Burnett’s Free Enterprise.  This almost-true story features Eric McCormack as the abrasively honest Mark, Rafer Weigel as the short-sighted Rob, and William Shatner (Star Trek Generations) as a somewhat demented version of himself.  Phil LaMarr (Futurama), Jonathan Slavin (Race to Witch Mountain), and Patrick Van Horn (Swingers) play various friends.

Broadly speaking, they tell two stories.  In one, Rob stumbles into Claire (Audie England), the love of his life, and eventually threatens to destroy the relationship just as he’s done with every other woman in his past.  In the other thread, Mark and Rob chance upon their lifelong hero, and become drawn into a surreal exploration of Shatner’s dream:  to produce William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as an unabridged one-man musical.

If this piece didn’t have its roots in fact, it would still be counted among the most meta-level productions I’ve ever seen.  As referential as it is referenceable, this work is the flip side of Swingers:  made by geeks, about geeks, and for geeks.  I can’t imagine many others appreciating it.

Even within the House of Geekdom, the proverbial window isn’t open very wide.  While geeks are common now, the references here are from another era altogether.  For example, the internet might have existed, but it plays no significant role, unless you count Rob selling his computer to raise action figure funds.

It tells its tale — to borrow a phrase from our resident goth — in the language of twins.  Fictions and metaphors are used:  to discuss themselves, as a way of life, and as a gating mechanism for the viewership.  This effort is meant for a subset of a subset of the general population, and its intended audience will rejoice.  All others may find it impenetrable, insufferable, or just out-and-out weird.

Be prepared for the unaided navigation of a world built on a complex framework of Aliens, Annie Hall, Basic Instinct, The Brady Bunch, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Casablanca, Charade, Christine, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Daredevil, Dawn of the Dead, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Die Hard, Fangoria, Forbidden Planet, Gone With the Wind, Goodfellas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Jaws, the JSA, Laura, Logan’s Run, Manhunter, Planet of the Apes, The Player, Re-Animator, Rear Window, Romeo Is Bleeding, The Sandman, Scooby-Doo, Seven, Shadows of the Empire, Shazam, Silence of the Lambs, Solaris, Soylent Green, Space 1999, Speed Racer, The Stand, Star Trek, Star Wars, Superman, The Terminator, Thief, The Thin Man, The Thing, Tomorrow Never Dies, Touch of Evil, The Twilight Zone, Vertigo, When Harry Met Sally, The X-Files, The X-Men, and many, many more.

So if you’re an old school geek — or love someone who is — you’ll likely appreciate this simple “boy meets girl” story, and its attendant “boy meets lunatic hero” complications.  For most, Free Enterprise would rate three stars but — as one of those old school geeks myself — I’m giving it a well-deserved five.

* * * * *

Unrated, contains adult situations, coarse language, and nudity

121 minutes (2005 Extended Edition)

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