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Friday, December 6, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Discovered Country -- `Trek Vi' Also Has Its Share Of Problems, But Diehards Will Be Happy

XX 1/2 "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Christopher Plummer, Kim Cattrall. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, from a script by Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn. Aurora Village, City Centre, Factoria, Gateway, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Lewis & Clark, Oak Tree, Totem Lake Cinemas. "PG" - Parental guidance advised, due to violence. --------------------------------------------------------------- Nicholas Meyer's latest "Star Trek" movie is in some ways a replay of Meyer's previous picture, "Company Business," a timely but forgettable espionage tale that was filmed in Berlin just after the Wall came down and opened without fanfare three months ago.

Meyer is still having trouble deciding whether he's making a political satire or a thriller about the end of the Cold War, and he doesn't juggle the two elements terribly well. Although "Star Trek VI" is set in the future, its plot about a Chernobyl-like Klingon disaster and the vulnerability of its evil empire was, like the storyline of "Company Business," inspired by the fall of communism.

Once again, Meyer is so busy cracking jokes about old loyalties, recriminations and new hopes that he fails to pay attention to the suspense elements of the script. There's too little tension, even when Capt. Kirk and Dr. McCoy are on trial for their lives and sent off to the Klingon equivalent of Siberia, and this time Meyer doesn't have actors of the caliber of Gene Hackman and Mikhail Baryshnikov to make the time pass.

What he does have is William Shatner, who has become the major liability of the series. Shatner directed the disastrous "Star Trek V," and apparently he wanted to direct this episode as well. According to a recent report in Cinefantastique magazine, he didn't get along with Meyer, in one instance hurling the script at him. Shatner walks through the new movie with a look of strained amusement that suggests he'd rather be somewhere else.

Indeed, Shatner is so out of synch that you wonder if Leonard Nimoy's Spock is just humoring him, hoping that this will indeed be their last on-screen outing together. Nimoy fared better during his recent appearance on a two-part episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," in which he seemed much more comfortable sharing the screen with the current captain of the Enterprise, Patrick Stewart.

For all its casting and script problems, however, "Star Trek VI" is an improvement on "V." There's nothing wrong with the basic premise, and a few of the lines and performances are sharp enough to raise your hopes.

Christopher Plummer, hamming it up as a Shakespeare-quoting Klingon named General Chang, chews the scenery as efficiently as Ricardo Montalban did in Meyer's "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." David Warner, who played Jack the Ripper in Meyer's "Time After Time," also has his moments as a more dignified Klingon, and Kim Cattrall is eeriely right as Spock's Vulcan protege. For no compelling reason, Christian Slater makes an unbilled cameo appearance.

The regulars are mostly strait-jacketed by roles they've been playing for a quarter of a century. George Takei's Sulu now has his own ship, which is first to report the Klingon crisis, but he doesn't get to do much more than make token appearances.

Almost everyone else looks more padded and wrinkled than ever, while Nimoy's Spock demonstrates an uncharacteristic affection for silly one-liners. Some of these click, but others seem more vulgar than Vulcan. At least no one calls for an encore of "Row, row, row, your boat."

The special effects are as cheesy as ever, with one bow to this year's favorite visual trick: the seamless transformation of one face into another. Familiar from "Terminator 2" and Michael Jackson's latest music video, it's used this time to portray a chameleon criminal who tries to seduce Capt. Kirk with the image of a cat-like woman and then confound him with his own mirror image. There's also a zero-gravity massacre in which purple Klingon blood forms little droplets in the air.

Most Trekkers should find something to enjoy in "Star Trek VI." Whether it will cross over to a larger audience - as only the delightful "Star Trek IV" managed to do - remains to be seen.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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