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Starship Trooper

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Starship Trooper

Starring: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Rated: R
RunTime: 129 Minutes
Release Date: November 1997
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, War, Action

*Also starring: Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris, Clancy Brown, Seth Gilliam, Patrick Muldoon, Michael Ironside, Rue McClanahan

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

Director Paul Verhoeven, whose previous works include movies as diverse as ROBOCOP and BASIC INSTINCT, takes an especially imaginative and fresh approach to science fiction with his new film STARSHIP TROOPERS. With a seamless blend of numerous movie genres, this audacious film is part space adventure, part combat movie, part newsreel footage, part romance and part military recruitment film.

The beauty of the picture is that the script by Edward Neumeier, loosely based on the Robert A. Heinlein novel, never takes itself seriously. Although full of the realistic gore of any war, the tone of the picture is upbeat, and Jost Vacano's cinematography and Allan Cameron's sets are bright and cheerful. Watching the film is just flat-out fun.

The movie's four leads (Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer as infantry grunts Johnny Rico and Dizzy Flores and Denise Richards and Patrick Muldoon as pilots Carmen Ibanez and Zander Barcalow) seem cast for their fashion model looks as well as their acting abilities. The handsome men have jutting jaws and great hair, and the beautiful women have million dollar smiles and perky lips. This conglomeration of excessive beauty is one of the film's many jokes -- sort of fraternity brothers and sorority sisters go to war.

All of the actors in the movie are so likable and are having so much fun blasting bugs that their excitement become infectious. The energy level and the enthusiasm for these young warriors was palpable in the audience at my screening. (The not-to-be-missed coed shower scene manages to be exuberant rather than tawdry as the troops exchange banter.)

"Young people all over the globe are joining up to save the future," announces the effusive opening newsreel. In a scene lifted out of TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, young people tell why they've joined up to fight the alien bugs that threaten our existence.

The story switches to the year before as we see the aforementioned kids at school. Everything is different in the future including biology. The kids have to dissect bugs three feet in diameter whose gooey intestines are straight out of ALIENS. Again, the good-spirited fun prevails in this and every scene so that what might normally gross one out doesn't.

When they graduate, the kids sign up to join the military, known as the Federal Service. Clancy Brown is great as Sgt. Zim, the tougher-than-tough drill instructor for the grunts at boot camp. One kid complains that he doesn't see the need to learn knife fighting in a world where you can press a button and fire a nuke. Sgt. Zim demonstrates the flaw in that argument by throwing a knife into the kid's hand, pinning it to the wall and thus demonstrating how the kid's finger is now inoperable. The action is hard-edged but the light-hearted tone of the film keeps it from ever becoming oppressive.

When a meteor is shot out of orbit with bug plasma and thus destroys millions of people on earth, the earth declares war on the planet with the alien bugs. Soon, a newsreel shows what the locals are doing to help, right down to kids stomping on earth-based little bugs. There are also interviews with survivors of the meteor attack, which include the classic line, "The only good bug is dead bug." The newsreel ends with the rhetorical question, "Everyone is doing their part. Are you?"

The battle scenes are phenomenal, both for the realistic and clever special effects and for the humor. When our troops land on the hostile planet, a reporter is at the front to interview the troops live on camera as the battle rages. "It's an ugly planet, a bug planet, a planet hostile to life as," says the interviewee who is chopped into pieces by a bug before he can finish his sentence. Unfazed, the reporter keeps on filming and then goes off to cover some other part of the battle. "Crisis for humankind," the newsreel later intones.

When the rip-roaring adventure finally ends, you realize that the show had plot holes as big as the bug holes in the movie, but you don't care. You've been fighting a war, and you've won! The only letdown comes when you get to the theater's dark parking lot and realize that you are no longer in the Federal Service. It's not the future any longer.

STARSHIP TROOPERS runs 2:09. It is rated R for sex, nudity, profanity, and gory violence. The film would be fine for most teenagers.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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