Have you ever read a book, listened to an album, or watched a movie where at the end, you couldn’t decide whether or not you liked it? You think “This book/album/movie seemed good enough, so why can’t I say I liked it?” I know I have. I usually get this weird, uneasy feeling whenever this happens. Luckily for the majority of you, you don’t have to sit down and write a review about your experience. So bear with me folks, as I attempt to review the film Free Enterprise, and maybe discern whether or not I ultimately liked it or not.

freeenterprisedvd.jpgThe movie opens with two establishing scenes of what we are led to believe are going to be our main characters. Young Mark is desperately trying to get into a theater to see the first Star Trek movie, while mini-Robert is being used as a human punching bag because he picked a fight with a kid twice his size for saying that Han Solo is cooler than Captain Kirk. In their respective moments of great duress, they are visited by an imaginary William Shatner, who doles out some sage advice. Years later, we find that Mark (Eric McCormack) and Rob (Rafer Weigel) have held on to their nerdy ways. Mark is an editor of his own magazine, Geek, while Rob works as a film editor, and would rather spend his petty cash on rare collectibles rather than pay his rent, electric, or phone bills.

Seeing as they’re both stereotypical near-30 year old geeks, it isn’t a stretch to believe that they have problems with the ‘opposite sex.’ Mark can’t get into a serious relationship because he is always looking for the “perfect woman,” and Rob won’t settle down because he always alienates his ladyfriends with constant talk of comic books, Star Trek, and general nerd-culture. And because he doesn’t pay his rent or electricity. Let’s not forget that. Mark is also worried about turning 30, and will tell anyone who’s listening about how much he’s freaking out.

On a particularly rough night, before heading to their regular bar the two decide to stop off at a bookstore, mostly to browse and blow off some steam. As they turn a corner, they come face-to-face with their idol, Mr. William Shatner. After a few minutes of fanboy rambling, Mark and Rob eventually befriend Shatner, and he shares some of his problems with them. See, Bill is having lady problems as well, but that’s not important. The real reason for his stress is that he wants to produce and direct in a musical version of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. He also wants to play the lead… all of the leads, in fact. Here’s a bit of weird history for you. As awesome and ridiculous as a one-man show Julius Caesar sounds, it was actually the project Orson Wells was working on at the time of his death. And now you know.

The film progresses through a few more character establishing scenes, mostly involving conversations about comics, action figures, Star Trek, and relationships. Before the movie gets too stagnant, Rob meets Claire (Audie England), the girl of his dreams, in this case, a dry, sarcastic comic book girl who bought his held back copy of The Sandman before he could. So they start dating. More character establishing scenes follow, this time showing that Rob has been spending an increasing amount of time with Claire, to the point where he is openly blowing off work. As a result, Rob gets canned, and Claire leaves him. While all this is going on, Mark complains about turning 30 again, and has a meeting with the Shat, who rambles on about his one-man play.

Rob mopes, Mark frets, and Shat has more delusions of grandeur. Rob goes out drinking with Bill, where Shatner doles out some of his special brand of advice on women… and then makes a fool out of himself when he drunkenly tries to put the moves on the owner of the bar. The movie culminates in a massive birthday bash for Mark. The scene is chock full of various quick shots of the geek conversations being held in the crowd, ranging from interesting to nearly incoherent. Rob gets back together with Claire, Mark no longer frets about being 30, and the Shat performs a rap about Julius Caesar.

Overall, Free Enterprise is an OK movie. It’s pretty funny, the geek-speak is factual, and it has William Shatner. All positive points in my opinion. I think part of the problem I had is that I had this “I’ve seen this before” feeling while watching this movie. I mean, two guys talking a lot about pop culture and their ever-mounting women problems and complain about their day jobs from time to time. Sound familiar? I bet it does. Free Enterprise share many thematic elements, plot points, and even static camera shots with Kevin Smith’s first 3 films, which were all widely available at the time of Free Enterprise’s creation.

I also want to take a moment to bring up a topic that the movie, while not causing my frustration, attributed to need to write about it. Free Enterprise is built largely on the notion that girls don’t get comic books, sci-fi movies, and anything identifies as “geeky.” In my own experience, this is completely without merit. I worked for years in a comic book shop (the now-closed Uncle Dave’s Comix and Hobby, where the owner was neither an uncle nor named Dave), I’ve been to various conventions, and I’ve watched the G4 channel. I can tell you here and now that girls dig geek culture. Heck, I’m dating a girl who has a pull list longer than my own! The idea Hollywood tries to push, the idea that women don’t understand or enjoy the nerdier things in life needs to end.

Free Enterprise has the distinction of being one of the first, if not the first, films where William Shatner decided make a career out of playing an exaggerated caricature of himself. He really brings his “A” game, and his rap at the end is reason enough to at least rent the movie. The pop culture discussions don’t sound faked or forced, and is another highlight in the film. From what I’ve read, this is because a lot of the dialog had been taken from actual conversations the co-writers/producers/directors had in real life. However, removing these two elements will leave Free Enterprise with an incredibly thin plot, relatively no humor, and a lackluster love story that makes Failure to Launch look like Casablanca.

Honestly, I guess what it comes down to when deciding if I liked Free Enterprise is whether or not I was entertained. And while I thought the Shatner scenes were top notch in hilarity, ultimately I can’t say that I enjoyed the film. Maybe your viewing experience will differ from mine, but I just can’t see myself giving it a passing grade. It is with a heavy heart that I give Free Enterprise 2 out of 5 stars.


I guess even Captain Kirk can’t win every time.

The Author

Sam Dunham

Sam Dunham

Sam Dunham was born at a very early age, and shortly after became entangled in the world of film. His first memories are of seeing King Ralph in his local theater. He learned to talk with the help of Adam West's Batman: The Movie. He's one of the few people to still own a working RCA Videodisc player (heck, it's where he first watched Young Frankenstein!). When Sam is not perusing his extensive B- movie collection or sitting in dark theaters with a tub of popcorn, he is usually found reading comic books, fixing computers, toiling away at his day job, working some nights at a local radio station as a "soundboard guy," and going to class so that he can one day toil away at his day job fixing computers. One time, Lou Ferrigno conned him out of $20.00. But that's another story...

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  1. Michael M
    August 13, 2009 at 12:55 am — Reply

    Cannot rave enough about this movie. Given that it debuted a decade ago I still find it hilarious after watching it more times than I can count. It is an acquired taste I admit but being old enough to have been the kid dying to see Star Trek the motion picture I related to the humor. I do find most people one decade removed are more inclined to feel as you did. The “he said Han Solo was cooler than Capt. Kirk” exchange was a Shatner moment that IMO should be enjoyed by any Shatner fan. Clichéd, yes, dated, to an extent, but a movie that will grow on you over time.

  2. Sam Dunham
    August 13, 2009 at 9:00 am — Reply

    You bring up a really good point. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was in theaters around 7 or so years before I was born, so yes, I am about a decade removed. I also haven’t hit the “magic 30” yet, and since this movie put so much emphasis on those two events, things I have not had the chance to experience yet, that could have been the reason for my inability to connect to the film.

    Like I said in the review, the Shatner scenes were top notch, especially the “Imanginary Friend” scenes at the beginning.

    I still stand by my inital rating of the movie, but who knows? My thoughts on Free Enterprise might change over time.

  3. August 13, 2009 at 10:47 am — Reply

    I also want to take a moment to bring up a topic that the movie, while not causing my frustration, attributed to need to write about it. Free Enterprise is built largely on the notion that girls don’t get comic books, sci-fi movies, and anything identifies as “geeky.” In my own experience, this is completely without merit.

    Eleven years have passed since this movie came out, and it’s difficult now to really process the change in status that our hobby (speaking mostly about comic books) has experienced during that time.

    Your average person in the street now has heard of the X-Men, Iron Man, and The Punisher from their movies, not so in the mid to late 90’s, in my experience. More people are aware that comic books contain more than just soopahero stories now than they did a decade ago. And, yes, there are more women in the hobby now (again, in my experience) than there were in 1998, at least in areas of central Kansas, which I admit tend to run about two to five years behind the times.

    There were always women out there who loved pop culture and comic books, but now, the ones who demurred or hid their love because of cultural pressures seem to be less prevalent, and so it goes.

    “Logic is the other guy’s schtick.” Heh.

  4. hermit
    August 14, 2009 at 12:49 pm — Reply

    i saw it yesterday. it’s not a bad movie, but it’s not good. it’s fine.

    it’s a regular bro movie, with the difference that there’s pop cultural reference throughout the movie. it’s nothing new, the cast is fine, the situation is something we saw a thousand times before and after.

    i think i saw the director’s cut. 2 hours is too long for that kind of movie.

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