The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Exhausting and entertaining.

The most amusing sci-fi film in recent years has been Galaxy Quest; now it's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, an adaptation of Douglas Adams's 1970s radio hit, TV serial, best-selling novel, and video game. It is manic and incoherent at times: Witness a thoughtful giant sperm whale mysteriously appearing in the sky and suddenly dropping thousands of feet to the ground or a chorus of deserting dolphins singing "Thanks for the fish" prior to the destruction of earth--straight out of Monthy Python's universe.

As Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) rides spaceship Heart of Gold with Trillian (Zooey Deschanel) and Ford Prefect (Mos Def), they have escaped earth's fate and begin looking for the ultimate answer, or question, with the help of the Guide, which has been transformed for the film into a very high tech laptop. It's impossible not to deduce that crazies just as dangerous and ludicrous as the Bush administration people the universe--for instance, the bureaucrats who announce the eminent domain elimination of earth for a universe bypath with the admonition that it's too late to complain because the plans have been available for 50 years on Alpha Centauri. Or the gun that changes men's obtuseness into feminine sensibility.

A high for the film is Bill Nighy as droll planet-builder Slartibartfast memorably taking our hero through a planetary warehouse; a low is John Malkovich as a former universe presidential contender and sneeze guru, a new and perplexing addition to Adams' zoo. Malkovich always makes himself interesting, but his character's place here is obscure.

The emergence this summer of a new Star Wars installment reminds me that almost all sci fi, even this one, is derivative. Stanley Kubrick lines up with Python and Lucas as some of the influences on writer Adams and debut director Jennings. An outing to the much-referenced "Restaurant at the End of the Universe" would be in order after this exhausting, entertaining cinematic picaresque.