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No Final Frontier for Stellar ‘Trek’

kirkpineJ.J. Abrams hasn't boldly gone where no man has gone before, quite — the "Star Trek" franchise has been around for more than 40 years, after all.

But he has accomplished what he set out to do — he's made a terrific movie. Not just a good "Star Trek" movie, one that longtime fans will appreciate and enjoy, but one that will captivate anyone new to the fold (if such a person exists), as well.

Abrams and writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman took a big risk, rebooting "Trek" by going back in time for a prequel, using mostly little-known actors in well-known roles to establish how the crew ended up on the starship Enterprise in the first place.

The movie is fun, it's smart and there's plenty of action. There are enough knowing nods to old-school fans to satisfy them, but they don't get in the way. In fact — and a feel for this kind of thing is what makes Abrams so good — they're perfect, nice accents that won't slow down the uninitiated.

While ultimately serving to get the gang together, the film must first establish the characters of eventual comrades James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). We learn Kirk's story literally from the beginning — the beginning of the movie, in which his lineage of heroism is established by his father, George (Chris Hemsworth), whose brief turn at the helm of his own starship saves hundreds of lives, and the beginning of James Kirk's life; the two events occur simultaneously.

When next we see the fatherless Kirk, he's a wild kid, then a punk townie growing up in Iowa. He's prone to drinking and shooting his mouth off and, therefore, bar fights. But a challenge from Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) proves provocative enough to make Kirk challenge himself and enter the Starfleet Academy.

Spock, meanwhile, has an equally tough go of it. He's ridiculed and bullied on his home planet by virtue of being half Vulcan and half human. Brilliant, logical but, unlike a true Vulcan, not wholly without emotion, he stuns his family by also choosing the Starfleet Academy. Also enrolled there: Uhura (Zoe Saldana). To reveal her first name would spoil one of the movie's running gags.

Along the way we meet Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban) and, once in space, Mr. Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin). (Much later we also meet Scotty, but Simon Pegg's performance makes it worth the wait.)

Kirk's father's undoing was the particularly surly Romulan Nero (Eric Bana, unrecognizable), who reappears and wants to destroy Vulcan, Earth and all the planets in the Federation. An inexperienced Kirk, Spock and the rest are ordered to Vulcan on a rescue mission, a bumpy ride both literally and figuratively. Pike is taken hostage and Kirk vows to rescue him. But before he can defeat Nero, he must first defeat Spock's utter contempt.

That means encountering Spock — not just the current version, but "Spock Prime," in the parlance of the movie. He's the original model, played by the original actor, Leonard Nimoy. How? Suffice it to say there are some fuzzy time-travel aspects to the story, which allow Nimoy more screen time than you might expect and help fudge any nagging plot inconsistencies with the canon of the original series.

Pine is suitably smart-alecky as Kirk, while Quinto, best known from TV's "Heroes," makes an excellent Spock, and not just because of his stunning resemblance to Nimoy. It's his performance, not just his haircut. (In the case of Urban, it IS mostly haircut, though he shares the same nicely pessimistic streak of his predecessor in the role.)

But the real star here is Abrams, who has mined the TV series and previous films only for useful nuggets to come up with a new creation, one that serves as a self-contained film and a launching pad for a continuation of the franchise, one that should, ahem, live long and prosper.

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content.

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STAR TREK (PG-13) Three and One-Half Stars (Good-to-Excellent)

Director J.J. Abrams has mined the TV series and previous movies only for useful nuggets, giving longtime fans plenty of nods without getting in the way of the story, which tells how James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the Enterprise came together. Fun, smart and full of action, it stands alone and serves as a successful launch for a new franchise. Paramount Pictures, 126 minutes.

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