Macaulay Culkin, Christopher Lloyd, the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Leonard Nimoy and Patrick Stewart

Thank heaven for Whoopi Goldberg Even just the voice of Whoopi Goldberg. She makes funny what is barely amusing, brisk what is tedious and tolerable what is tough to stomach. And too bad Culkin gives such a bland performance in this tale of a timorous boy who learns to shake off his abiding fear of life.

Culkin is the despair of his parents (Ed Begley Jr. and Mel Harris). His bedroom is filled with more safety equipment than a civil defense shelter; his head is filled with statistics about accidents. Taking shelter in the town library during a rainstorm, Culkin, through the offices of a super-librarian known as the Pagemaster (Lloyd), is catapulted into a world of books. There he finds friends—and courage.

The problem is that there's nothing dynamic about The Pagemaster, which combines live action and animation. And there's nothing witty in its renderings of Goldberg, Stewart and Nimoy as, respectively, fantasy, adventure and horror books.

It's hard to fault the pro-reading message, but parents and kids would do better to skip the movie and go to the library.(G)

Keenen Ivory Wayans, Jada Pinkett, Salli Richardson, Charles S. Dutton

Saturday-night movies are movies to see with your critical faculties at half mast. Hey, you're out to have a good time. Think Die Hard, think Sister Act. A Low Down Dirty Shame, an action film that's funnier and more entertaining than it has any right to be between scenes of Wayans blowing away bad guys, is a quintessential Saturday-night movie.

Wayans the star, writer and director of this tale about a disgraced cop turned private eye who's out to settle an old score with a scumball drug dealer. The movie features a hilarious, spunky-but-chic performance by Pinkett as Wayans's assistant, much snappy patter and explosive action sequences, including a yucky slo-mo of blood spurting from a broken nose.

Citizen Kane it is not—and Wayans should know better than to have gay characters doing the fluttery equivalent of Stepin Fetchit routines. Dutton, who plays a drug-enforcement agent, yells more than necessary, and Richardson, as an ex-girlfriend of Wayans's, is so stiff you suspect she was lacquered before every take. But these are minor quibbles, and Saturday night is no time to nitpick. (R)

Patrick Steivart, William Shatner, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Malcolm McDowell

Greedily going where everyone and his brother have gone before, this sequel that dares not speak its name—Star Trek VII—is an over-hyped, underimagined walkthrough that relies excessively on flashy fireworks effects and confusing leaps in time and space.

The film has been promoted as a confrontation between the casts of the original Star Trek TV series that began in 1966 and the spinoff series Star Trek: The Next Generation, introduced in 1987 to exploit the original's extraordinary success in reruns. In fact, it is basically a Next Generation episode with Shatner and McDowell as guest stars.

Shatner is the only major member of the original cast to appear in a non-cameo role, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley having viewed their proposed parts as too small.

Since Shatner's acting style still comes in baked, boiled, spiced, deviled and chopped variations, he's no match for the Shakespearean-caliber Stewart. Shatner's exaggerated readings settle at least part of the Shatner vs. Stewart argument that Trek fans have raised to the level of such heated theoretical disputes as Mantle vs. Mays, Trigger vs. Champion, Corvette vs. Thunderbird, Ricki Lake vs. Montel Williams or Sean Connery vs. Roger Moore. (Shatner remains, however, much less chilly a personality than Stewart.)

The two Enterprise captains meet in one of the time leaps when Stewart goes back to recruit Shatner to help fight McDowell, a standard-issue Trek villain who's destroying stars and their affiliated planets to change the course of an itinerant dimensional warp (don't ask). In traditional Trek style, the plot has moralistic, allegorical undertones: McDowell is essentially chasing a kind of drug.

The main subtext involves Spiner's quizzical android, Data, who finally reprograms himself with an emotion chip so that he can be more human. (Nimoy's absence is most evident in these scenes since Spock's take on Data's tortured introspection would have been fun to see.) The results are predictable, but they provide most of the movie's enjoyment, at least for non-Trekkies.

For hard-core fans, the chance to directly compare the two Enterprise crews, despite the absence of most of Shatner's colleagues, will no doubt seem like an event of galactic proportions. (PG)

  • Contributors:
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Ralph Novak.