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'Star Trek Beyond' boldly goes kind of where you expect it to, but with style

Kenneth Turan reviews 'Star Trek Beyond,' directed by Justin Lin and starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg and Karl Urban. Video by Jason H. Neubert.

Taking its celebrated "Live long and prosper" salute to heart, "Star Trek" has become not just a movie franchise but a pop culture empire. About to turn 50, it has spawned 13 films and six TV series, sold more than 100 million books, comics and magazines and continues to have such cachet that Amazon's mighty monarch, Jeff Bezos himself, asked for a cameo in "Star Trek Beyond."

"Beyond" is the third episode in producer J.J. Abrams' reboot of the Gene  Roddenberry episodic TV concept of a plucky spaceship crew exploring strange new worlds and boldly going where no one had managed to go before.

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Abrams, who directed the last two films, has turned this one over to fellow franchise wrangler Justin Lin, best known for four consecutive episodes of the kinetic "Fast & Furious" series.

Given how much was riding on this film's success in today's risk-averse Hollywood, not to mention how many different constituencies had to be pleased, the fact that the result is serviceable, delivering enough value to be worth a fan's time, is about as good as one could reasonably expect.

And because Lin's "Fast & Furious" films live up to their names, it's not surprising that the action set pieces in particular and the look of "Beyond" in general are among its strengths.

Not only have Lin and company (including cinematographer Stephen F. Windon, production designer Tom Sanders and make-up designer Joel Harlow) created more than 50 alien races, they've come up with some nifty alien worlds, especially the enormous spaceport of Yorktown, whose streets were shot in futuristic Dubai.

Because Lin has apparently been a "Star Trek" fan since his youth, he is in tune with the earnestness that is one of the TV series' legacies. At its best, this results in a heartfelt tribute to the late Leonard  Nimoy, the original Spock.

Watch the trailer for "Star Trek Beyond," featuring Rihanna's new single "Sledgehammer."

As written by actor Simon Pegg (whose credits include "Shaun of the Dead" and who also returns as chief engineer Montgomery Scott) and Doug Jung, "Beyond" spends measurable time on a variety of riffs and character moments with returning regulars.

These include Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), Lieutenant Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), Dr. "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban) and Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin, the young actor who died in a June 19 accident).

Yet even though all these people are back, they are not necessarily endlessly fascinating, and as conversational moments with them go on, "Beyond" in general, especially in its middle sections, starts to feel like it is marking time as much as anything else.

In fact "Beyond's" most involving characters are its new ones, starting with the energetically villainous Krall (Idris Elba, almost unrecognizable under five hours of makeup).

Much more amusing is a can-do alien named Jaylah, engagingly played under kabuki-style makeup by Sofia Boutella, soon to play the title character in "The Mummy" opposite Tom Cruise.

Boutella is especially charming in Jaylah's deadpan idiosyncratic use of English as she calls Captain Kirk "James-tee" and refers to engineer Scott as "Montgomery Scottie." When she says it, it's funny.

Like its characters, the plot of "Beyond" is effective in fits and starts, something the screenplay seems to jokingly acknowledge when it has Kirk read a captain's log entry saying, "things feel episodic."

We catch up to the crew of the Starship Enterprise three years into its five-year mission, on its 966th day in deep space to be precise. After a knockabout encounter with a particularly obtuse alien race, the ship heads to Yorktown for routine maintenance.

The crew has barely arrived, however, when the Enterprise is needed for what sounds like a fairly routine mission, rescuing a stranded crew that has been shipwrecked somewhere deep inside an uncharted nebula. But as the captain says, quoting the TV series as it turns out, "there's no such thing as the unknown, only things temporarily hidden."

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But things in deep space are not always as they seem, and Enterprise crew members end up stranded on planet Altamid, dependent on each other as they deal with the machinations and depredations of Krall, who, no surprise, will stop at nothing to achieve his nefarious aims.

While this setup is effective, there is a sense of the pro forma in the way "Star Trek Beyond" carefully makes its appointed rounds, dotting the i's and crossing the t's. Fun but in a careful way, the film lasts just two hours, but it can seem much longer than that.

"Star Trek Beyond"

MPAA rating: PG-13 for scenes of sci-fi action and violence

Running time: 2 hours and 2 minutes

In general release

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