‘William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill’ Review: Living Long


The line between star and character gets thoroughly blurred in “William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill,” a profile documentary that treats Shatner, the sole interviewee, as if he were as polished as Capt. James T. Kirk — as opposed to merely being the durable, hard-working actor who played him on “Star Trek” and a terrific raconteur.

The director, Alexandre O. Philippe, churns out movie-themed documentaries that veer between insightful (“78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene”) and obsequious (“Memory: The Origins of Alien”). The fawning “You Can Call Me Bill” makes you like Shatner. Still, listening to the actor’s wit, wisdom and drippy insights for 96 minutes is enough to tempt any viewer to channel his or her inner Spock. (“Most illogical!”)

“You Can Call Me Bill” is tedious when Shatner shares his thoughts on animals and spirituality (“You reach a connection with a horse that can be something mystical”) but sharp when he reflects on acting. It’s interesting to hear that he felt influenced both by the traditionalism of Laurence Olivier and the Stella Adler training of Marlon Brando; he suggests that split was related to his being Canadian, torn between British and American cultures. He probes deeply into his craft when speaking of selecting differentiated traits that an audience could identify in scenes that featured multiple Kirks and of wanting another take of his death scene close-up in “Star Trek: Generations” (1994).

It’s hard not to smile during footage of Shatner, then 90, becoming the oldest person ever to travel to space. But “You Can Call Me Bill” is fundamentally a case of an actor presenting himself as he wants to be seen.

You Can Call Me Bill
Rated PG-13 for some language that would mostly pass on 1960s television. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. In theaters.

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