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Free Enterprise (February 25/06)

It's not difficult to see why, in the years following its blink-and-you-probably-missed-it theatrical release in 1998, Free Enterprise has gone on to become a cult classic, what with its tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, distinctly geeky sensibility and (of course) the casting of William Shatner as himself. And while there's absolutely no denying that the film is overlong by at least half an hour (co-writer Mark A. Altman admits as much in the DVD's liner notes), Free Enterprise is generally an amiable and compelling romantic comedy.

The movie is generally a plotless affair, revolving around the hijinks of two lifelong friends - Mark (Eric McCormack) and Robert (Rafer Weigel) - as they attempt to cope with their fledgling careers and capricious love lives. Robert thinks he's found the perfect woman in Claire (Audie England), while Mark finds himself collaborating on a six-hour adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar with none other than William Shatner.

Director Robert Meyer Burnett establishes an appropriately off-kilter vibe immediately, with an opening sequence featuring Mark's attempt to sell a producer on his absurd idea for a film (entitled Bradykillers, the movie would follow a serial killer who only targets women named Marcia, Jan, and Cindy). The filmmaker likewise peppers the film with sundry off-the-wall and overtly silly elements, while at the same time ensuring that Mark and Robert remain believable, engaging figures. The reference-heavy dialogue (which riffs on everything from Star Trek to Casablanca) certainly says a lot about the mindset of the various characters, and it's hard not to get a chuckle out of some of this stuff (ie Mark delivers an impassioned speech that's been lifted almost directly from an episode of Star Trek).

The film's uneven structure and egregiously padded-out runtime are tempered by the uniformly superb performances, particularly among the two leads (it's not difficult to see why McCormack went on to a starring role on a popular sitcom). Screenwriters Burnett and Altman effectively infuse the storyline with bursts of twentysomething angst, lending the picture a little more depth than one might have expected. And though Free Enterprise is ultimately not quite as satisfying as some of its contemporaries - ie Swingers - the movie remains a staple of the geek community (and rightly so).

out of

About the DVD: Anchor Bay Entertainment comes through with a feature-laden two-disc special edition, finally replacing the long-since out-of-print edition from the late '90s. This version of the film runs five minutes longer than the theatrical cut, and contains improved special effects (primarily in the Logan's Run sequence). In addition to a crisp anamorphic transfer, the DVD includes two commentary tracks, deleted scenes, a lengthy behind-the-scenes featurette, screen tests, and much more.
© David Nusair