The Grab Bag: Groom Lake (2002)

With Star Trek making its rebooted debut on screens over the weekend, my readers who caught my month long “You Don’t Know Shat” event might wonder what I thought. Since tons of other folks are airing their opinions at the moment, I will reserve mine for a later time, but suffice it to day I had no complaints. If you’d like to peruse a post that adheres pretty closely to my own thoughts, then check out Ryan’s post over at The Realm of Ryan. However you know I love a good tie in, so I thought I might check out a film that boasts not only a Trek connection, but throws in a little J.J. Abrams for good measure. So for today, let’s leave the stars behind and take a travel out to….
Groom Lake (2002) starring Amy Acker, Dan Gautier, William Shatner, Dick Van Patten, and Tom Towels. Directed by William Shatner. 

A young woman, Kate (Acker) and her boyfriend Andy (Gautier) travel into the Nevada desert to spend some time under the stars. Kate has been diagnosed with a fatal illness, and she wants to travel to an area where UFOs have been sited to give her reassurance that there is life in the universe. The couple only finds misfortune in the desert, but when they witness an object ascending from a nearby military base, the couple is drawn into a conspiracy involving a secret government base and once scientist’s experiments with alien technology. 

The Bugg Picture

Groom Lake, it seems, is a drained lakebed that is situated next to the legendary Area 51 installation. I don’t think I need to go into what Area 51 is, but in a nutshell, it’s where the feds keep all the crazy alien hardware. So who do you think the government might put in charge of a facility like that, well, William Shatner of course. At least that’s who’s in charge when The Once and Future Kirk gives this film the Edward D. Wood Jr. treatment as he writes, directs, and co-stars in Groom Lake

While I personally never have a problem with Shatner’s acting (after all you can only expect Shatner to act like Shatner), other facets of his artistic life are more suspect. When it comes to directing, while his T.J Hooker episodes might not have been any worse than the rest of the series, I think it is widely accepted that Star Trek V, which he directed, is the worst of the lot. Then there’s Shatner’s writing. As an avid reader of Star Trek novels, I can safely say that his series (which of course brought Kirk back from the dead), is a collection of tales so dreadful they almost made me forget about the one TekWar book I read. Joined here by TV scribe Maurice Hurley, Shatner either puts together one of the most hackneyed science fiction scripts seen since the 1950’s or a half assed homage to the same. 

To decide which of these might be the truth, I had to look pretty deep into this flick. The first thing I would say is that this is a movie that does not benefit from being picked apart. The logic of the characters, or the plot for that matter, rarely makes sense. That being said, Groom Lake was executive produced by Charles Band, of Full Moon Productions, so that in and of itself is enough to clue many genre fans into what kind of film this is. As with most Band productions, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it does have its moments when Shatner’s heavy handed story comes though. 

I can forgive a bit of the sappy “love never dies” storyline as Shatner was still grieving for the loss of his wife in 1999, but thankfully the story never gets too bogged down in emotional development. Thankfully, Amy Acker does not make her terminally ill character a sappy mess. The young actress, who would star as Fred on Joss Wheadon’s Angel and Kelly Payton on J.J. Abrams’ Alias, makes her character empathetic, but the scenes come unbalanced due to Dan Gautier’s Tom Cruise-esque delivery and manner. I’ve never seen Gautier in anything else, but I have to wonder if it was a conscience decision to channel the Top Gun star. Either way, in the broader adventure scenes it’s tolerable, but in the emotional moments, it’s maddening. 

The film also contains some appearances from some strange folks including Dick Van Patten as Shatner’s cohort in alien experimentation, character actor Dan Martin as the poorly named Captain Morgan, and Duane Whitaker, star of the most excellent film Eddie Presley, appears as a town doctor. Tom Towles, who is perhaps better known to horror fans as Otis from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, gives an interestingly over the top performance as a would be abductee. No one from the stars to the supporting cast is very good. I know the stilted script is partially to blame, but some of the line delivery was just the worst. 

After I watched the film, I checked out the 28 minute interview with Shatner, and it seems even Shatner, in his own veiled way, admits that this film was a turd. It’s interesting to hear him talk about
 choosing a special effects company and admitting that they were not even close to what he wanted. We all know Shatner is not a good director, but I feel like his heart was in the right place on this one. Unfortunately, his skill could not rise to meet his ambition. 

So was Groom Lake a nod to the science fiction films of a bygone era ? Probably not, in the near half hour that Shatner talked, nothing of the sort ever came up. Instead it was just quite bad, it was Shatner, and I had to check it out. This is a film I could only recommend to hardcore Shatnerphiles, but for those of you out there, I have to say check this one out for the interview portion of the disk if for nothing else. 

Bugg Rating 


  1. Hi - Tom Towles was not the alien. He was Deitz. Who worked at the gas station and had the snakes - the, condoloon! reference; wanted to be abducted himself; played Amy Ackers' - can't remember the character name - the waitress boyfriend; went to the facility to capture and bring back the alien. So he had a larger role than the alien, and was not the alien. He was the crazy guy from the gas station.

  2. PS - my account isn't "420 Train Wreck", not sure why that came up instead of my logged-into account.

  3. ahh my bad, I was writing this post quite late, and got some of the characters confused I guess. thanks for the comment. And if you're noy 420 Train Wreck, who are you you masked man?

  4. First of all, thanks for the link!

    Second… yeah, I love Shatner as an actor. He has a certain style that just is… Shatner. And he's entertaining. But he needs to stay in front of the camera; I think that he tries to put his same acting style into his other artistic efforts, and it just doesn't translate onto either paper or film direction.

    Great review, and glad you liked Star Trek '09 (although I wasn't particularly worried that you wouldn't).

  5. Thanks for the comment Ryan. I really enjoyed your Trek review, but every time i went to leave a comment, it was more like a thesis. Needless to say I thought it was great and it seems we share a man crush on Karl Urban.

  6. Sorry - I don't know why it's got me logged in as 420trainwreck! (I do have an account for Google mail testing for the site - I'm the webmistress). I also built Tom's officisl site, am his webmistress, Tracy and run the site as well as his Myspace page. I got a Google alert about your review so I popped over to read it. I totally understand about reviewing in the wee hours, used to do it myself. Great job on the review!
    Best -


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