Where do the stars of an old science-fiction television series go after their show has been canceled and the actors have been so hopelessly typecast that they're unable to land other roles? Why, to ribbon-cutting ceremonies for electronics stores, cheap rip-offs of their old program, fan conventions and, if they're lucky, lavishly produced on-screen reunions, even though the actors are way past their prime.
That snapshot from real life -- the fate of the "Star Trek" cast -- is accurately and hilariously developed in "Galaxy Quest," a lightweight, laugh-out-loud comedy. Director Dean Parisot, responsible for last year's only mildly amusing "Home Fries," returns with a Christmas present filled with impressive special effects and silly gags, which is far more entertaining than its packaging might have led anyone to believe. "Trekkies," a 1997 documentary on the excesses of "Star Trek" fandom, bordered on a kind of viciousness toward its subject matter. Parisot's film, on the other hand, offers a more good-natured take on the faded, embittered thespians and the obsessive hobbyists who make great efforts to safeguard memories of their favorite pop-culture phenomenon.
The concept, admittedly, is paper thin: Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), the Shatneresque macho man who played Commander Taggart on a TV program called "Galaxy Quest," is suddenly called to duty in an actual outer-space war with aliens.
Prior to this startling turn of events, Nesmith had been in a deep, blue funk, sparked by what seemed like the sad end to a career once filled with triumphs and serious public adulation. At a convention, he overhears fans' mockery and takes out his frustrations on a kid brimming with questions about arcane trivia. "It's just a television show," Nesmith bellows, in a scene reminiscent of Shatner's playful get-a-life sketch on "Saturday Night Live."
The other cast members, too, mostly share in that cynicism about the futility of their post-"Galaxy Quest" careers. Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver), busty and blonde, is torn about her character's identity as a brassiere-exposing sex symbol. Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman) is forever brooding about his choice to leave Shakespearean theater in favor of fame and fortune as the reptilian Dr. Lazarus. Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell) was a child actor on the old show, while the relatively happy-go-lucky Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) played tech Sgt. Chen.
The entire clan, along with Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell), who portrayed a luckless crew member in an early episode, battle the evil, slimy green gargantuan Sarris (Robin Sachs). Along the way, there are seemingly innocent Teletubbies-like creatures, a monster made of rocks and an intergalactic minefield.
The beneficiaries of all this bravery are the kindly, naive Thermians, led by Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni), and they amount to the ultimate "Galaxy Quest" fans. Mathesar and the other members of his species are insanely cheery, equipped with beatific smiles, mechanical body movements and voices that rise and fall with something like religious fervor. These guileless folks might easily be the Coneheads' better-looking cousins, making for another "SNL" borrowing that pays off in this cheery, welcome alternative to the holiday season's parade of earnest, overlong dramas.