December 15, 1986 12:00 PM

To most people, the Enterprise is an old aircraft carrier, and warp factor is what happens to your records when you leave them out in the sun. To Trekkies, however, they’re universal terms of endearment. It hardly matters what the context is, which is just as well, given what a mess of a context Star Trek IV is. The plot picks up where The Search for Spock ended, with the crew returning to Earth to stand trial for the crimes they committed in tracking down everyone’s favorite Vulcan. Luckily for them there’s a giant, cigar-shaped alien probe that is “ionizing the atmosphere and vaporizing the oceans” of the Earth in an attempt to communicate with the now-extinct humpback whale. It’s never clear why the probe wants so badly to speak to the whale. The crew (all the principals from the TV series are still around) returns to the 20th century to find two humpbacks, thereby setting up a lot of Back to the Future humor and a potential romance between William Shatner and Catherine (Peggy Sue Got Married) Hicks. She plays a biologist at an aquarium near San Francisco, acting with such cartoonish earnestness you just hope she’s camping it up. The film often seems to be sending itself up, in fact, with overwrought bumper-sticker sloganeering about whales and nuclear power. True Trekkies will devour every Spockism and Kirk command, but others will feel as entertained as they would if someone told a joke in a foreign language they didn’t understand. (PG)

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