It's Mad: `Mst3K' Pokes Fun At Sci-Fi

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XX 1/2 "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie," with Trace Beaulieu, Michael J. Nelson, Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy and John Brady. Directed by Jim Mallon from a script by Nelson, Beaulieu, Mallon, Murphy, Mary Jo Phel, Paul Chaplin and Bridget Jones. Varsity. "PG-13" - Parental guidance advised because of sexual humor. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Talking back to movies is one of life's gleeful pleasures.

Not much beats the guilty delight of staying up late on weekend nights with several friends, watching terrible old sci-fi movies and talking back to the screen, throwing popcorn at the square scientists, howling at the bug-eyed monsters, reveling in your own wit.

That's the idea behind "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie."

The premise of MST3K (as it's referred to by fans) has a mad scientist, Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu), shooting his captive, Mike Nelson (Michael J. Nelson), into space. Nelson and his robot friends, Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) and Crow T. Robot (Beaulieu), are forced to watch bad movies as Forrester monitors their reactions. Nelson, Tom and Crow are shown in silhouette seated in a theater, spewing wisecracks throughout the length of the movie.

MST3K began in 1988 as a television show on an independent Minneapolis station. The show has since gathered fans through its run on Comedy Central (and shown locally at 1 a.m. Sundays on KCPQ-13). Throughout, its premise has remained basically unchanged, its humor emerging from the well-deserved zingers at truly cheesy films, sharp cultural references, genuinely funny observations and an adolescent-like glee in its own basement-level special effects.

"MST3K: The Movie" continues in this tradition, with Mike and the robots "forced" to watch "This Island Earth," a 1955 film about a scientist who saves Earth from bug-eyed, big-brained monsters from outer space. With a first half so boring it wouldn't merit "bad movies we love" status, a latter half so cheesy you want to fend off mice and a hero so square designers could use him to measure right angles, the original film is ripe for MST3K treatment.

And for the most part, the MST-ers don't disappoint.

There are some sharp zingers. Most memorable are references to the late-1970s sitcom "Mork and Mindy," the science-and-industry-lauding educational films of the 1950s, and a one-liner about the Kingdome.

Despite that, there's really no reason for "MST3K: The Movie" to be on the big screen. The move from television doesn't improve the product much.

Other science-fiction TV shows that have made the leap ("Star Trek" comes to mind), have succeeded because the format of the movies allowed them to do something different with the product - more operatic story arcs, complex plots, grand special effects.

The charm of MST3K, though, has always been in its self-mocking, cheap, we-just-threw-it-all-together sort of feel.

It's a fun enough way to pass the time. And fans of the TV version of MST3K certainly won't be disappointed. But it would be just as much - if not more - fun watching it in your own living room with a bunch of rowdy pals.