Starship Troopers (1997)
Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris,
Patrick Muldoon, Clancy Brown, and Michael Ironside.
Written by Ed Neumeier based on the book by Robert A. Heinlein.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven.
Review by Carlo Cavagna.
Paul Verhoeven returns from the world of campy erotica (Showgirls, Basic Instinct) to the world of campy action (Total Recall, Robocop) with Starship Troopers. Like Robocop, Starship Troopers is set in a neo-fascist future, which was taken too seriously by some reviewers who were very critical of this film. I choose to believe that, as in Robocop, the neo-fascism is Paul Verhoeven's idea of a joke, and it's a pretty funny joke, too--almost as funny as the terrible acting. If viewed as a comedy, Starship Troopers is actually quite an enjoyable film, thanks in large part to the spectacular special effects, which rivaled those of Alien Resurrection as the best of 1997.
Based loosely--very loosely--on Robert Heinlein's 1960 Hugo Award-winning novel (most fans of the book were offended by the screenplay), Starship Troopers is about a group of young people with perfect cheekbones who enroll in the military to fight the "bug menace." They are all so attractive that genetic engineering is clearly a part of Verhoeven's neo-fascist world, although it is never explicitly acknowledged. Only by enrolling in the military can a person become a "citizen" and gain the right to vote.
The first half of the movie is devoted to showing how the young recruits are molded into killing machines and establishing the romantic subplot. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is involved with Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), who goes off to flight school while Johnny joins the infantry. Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), who has pined for Johnny for years, is in infantry training as well, but Johnny has eyes only for Carmen. Johnny continues to reject Dizzy's advances, despite the fact that Carmen appears to be utterly devoid of a personality and is less attractive than Dizzy to boot. Then again, Johnny doesn't appear to have much of a personality, either.
The trouble with being in the military is that the "bug menace" is very real, and the casualty rate is appallingly high, especially in the infantry. In the second half of the movie, the wall-to-wall action begins, featuring amazing computer-generated giant bugs of several different varieties and plenty of blood and gore. The action is organized around three separate campaigns, the first of which is an ill-advised assault on the bugs' home world. It's not entirely clear why the military sends in ground troops instead of blowing the planet to pieces with nuclear weapons, but in the subsequent campaigns, the infantry's role is more defined. In the end, Johnny, Carmen, Dizzy, and all of the other featured characters get the opportunity to be heroes.
Much of Starship Troopers plays like an exaggerated propaganda film--in fact, Verhoeven uses hilariously funny advertisements and news reels as narrative devices, as he did in Robocop. The plot isn't terribly coherent, and it's odd how all the characters keep bumping into one another other, even though the military is so large that, when Carmen leaves for flight school, she remarks to Johnny that they will probably never see each other again. But, if you're in the mood for some escapist entertainment, the bad acting and ludicrous elements of the story are part of the fun.
Review © March 1999
by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc.
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