Director: Robert Meyer Burnett
Writers: Robert Meyer Burnett and Mark A. Altman
Starring: Rafer Weigel, Eric McCormack and William Shatner
“Free Enterprise” may be the geekiest movie I had never heard of. A few weeks ago, a generous friend hooked me up with a copy of the film, which was released in just a
handful of theaters in 1998 and quickly disappeared. That’s a shame, because this story about two friends on the edge of 30 is a funny, bottomless pit of sci-fi and pop culture references. It’s also a sharp and ultimately sweet movie about relationships and fumbling toward adulthood.
Robert (Rafer Weigel), the slacker of the duo, would rather spend his money on a Mego Mighty Isis doll than his utility bill, and he can’t stop himself from correcting a bungled Star Trek reference. However, he’s not the stereotypical nerd who can’t get a date. Robert definitely gets around, but his man-child tendencies inevitably undermine the romance. As one woman puts it, “Wow. Your place looks like a really rich fourth-grader lives here.”
Mark (played by Eric McCormack of “Will & Grace”) is a sci-fi magazine editor who is practically ossified in cynicism and quietly freaked out about turning 30. While he’s more responsible than Robert, Mark is seriously impaired when it comes to intimacy. The most exciting part of his evening is when an anonymous woman having (or faking) an orgasm leaves a recording on his answering machine. Mark is kind of a dick, but he does help Robert out of a financial jam more than once. There’s a heart beneath those withering one-liners. Neither guy is exactly living the dream. Robert edits trashy films for a living, and Mark’s passion project is a movie called “Bradykillers.” Yes, that would be a film about the serial murder of the Brady Bunch.
Mark and Robert meet their idol William Shatner in a bookstore one night, and after going into a babbling fanboy fit, they end up befriending the star. Their obsession with Shatner goes all the way back to childhood when they considered him a sort of guardian angel, so it’s a bit of a shock for them to discover that he’s very human. Later, Robert meets the girl of his dreams in a comic book shop and (barely) recovers after assuming she’s buying “Sandman” for her boyfriend. Robert falls deeply in love with Claire, ignoring friends and employer, but bad habits come back to haunt him. For all the humor, there’s a tenderness in this movie that I didn’t expect.
In addition to Shatner’s charmingly self-effacing performance, there are a number of laugh-out-loud moments and delightful in-jokes. The “Logan’s Run” dream sequence was gold, as were the strategically placed “Star Wars” quotes. I plan to watch it again because I’m certain that I missed something.
I’ll admit that the movie is dated (Do the rappers have to be so stereotypical?) and doesn’t exactly have the highest production values. As much as I dug it, I wonder whether it would resonate as much with those outside Generation X because of the plentiful allusions to ’70s nerdery. However, my civilian spouse liked it, so that indicates some mainstream appeal.
Minor shortcomings aside, “Free Enterprise” is a well-written love letter to the geek community, and it deserves a bigger audience. I’m doing my part to spread the word.