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Why ''Galaxy Quest'' outshines Hanks' and Carrey's new films

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Why ”Galaxy Quest” outshines Hanks’ and Carrey’s new films

I must admit I went to ”Galaxy Quest” over the weekend not expecting much — my 10-year-old wanted to see it, and I was along for the ride. What a pleasant shock the movie proved to be, however. This canny spoof of ”Star Trek” fandom — about the cast of a canceled sci-fi TV show who are mistaken for real space heroes by a group of aliens who need help in their battle against an intergalactic monster villain — was at once sweet-tempered and sharp-witted, and ultimately touchingly insightful about the gonzo young fan-boys the movie only seems to caricature.

By chance, I also saw another outer-space-titled film — ”Man on the Moon,” the all too down-to-earth biopic starring Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman — this weekend, and recently caught the Tom Hanks marathon ”The Green Mile,” three-plus hours of mice, moldy jail cells, and moral uplift. These two movies are big-budget, big-star jobs positioned as Oscar magnets. But ”Green Mile” presents Hanks, an actor I (and of course millions of other people) enjoy, as a stiff saint; the movie doesn’t allow him to create the vivid, flawed character that would make his role as a thoughtful prison guard a moving one.

And other than admiring Carrey’s dead-on impersonation of Kaufman, ”Moon” struck me as a rather cold, tedious exercise. Director Milos Forman restages Kaufman’s most famous ”bits” — his ”Mighty Mouse” lip-synching routine, his wrestling matches with women — with scrupulous fidelity, but watching this re-creation of comedy places it at a distance that doesn’t encourage laughter. Had the movie explored the man behind the moon-faced grin, Forman might have created the portrait of a misunderstood comic genius he intends, but there’s nothing here beneath the surface of this ”Moon.”

”Galaxy Quest,” by contrast, has a funny premise that’s carried off with brisk efficiency. Tim Allen, who stars as the film’s TV-show commander, is no Jim Carrey in the acting department, but he’s perfect as a TV star who hasn’t succumbed to a has-been’s cynicism. Three actors who ARE up to Carrey level — Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Tony Shalhoub — frequently transcend the script’s foolishness to achieve a beguiling playfulness. The movie’s laughs are blessedly unironic, as opposed to Kaufman’s increasingly dated-looking ironic ”happenings.” And unlike ”The Green Mile,” ”Galaxy” works as both a genre piece and as a comment on humanity. In ”Quest”’s case, it’s suggested that even junk culture can provide people with emotional nourishment if it’s presented with heart.

Call me a sentimental low-brow, but I think that’s a notion worth celebrating. The fact that it arrives surrounded by belly laughs only makes the modest ”Galaxy Quest” more of a pleasure.