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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 MrBrown
2½ stars out of 4

Starship Troopers is Paul Verhoeven's return to familiar sci-fi ground after the disastrous Showgirls, and it just might be the quintessential Verhoeven film. While it is not a complete rebound from the instant camp classic of '95, it is a shining example of Verhoeven at his best--and, unfortunately, his worst.

Based on the Robert A. Heinlein novel of the same name, Starship Troopers details mankind's future war with giant bugs from outer space. Why have these alien arthropods decided to pick a fight with Earthlings? We never find out, not that it matters. The wild and woolly battles with the CGI bugs find the Dutch Verhoeven, who made his name in America with the superlative sci-fi actioners RoboCop and Total Recall, back in top form. No other action director can make mass impalings, decapitations, and dismemberment so sadistically--and gleefully--over-the-top. More prudish viewers may find the bloody action repugnant, but the gruesome, almost cartoonish, nature of the violence is exactly what makes Verhoeven adventures so much fun.

Unfortunately, aside from a brief snippet of opening bug action, there is an often laughable first hour of exposition and uninspired soap opera subplots, during which we meet our focal slate of stock characters: Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), hotshot soldier; his demure girlfriend, Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), a military pilot; brash Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), who carries a torch for the oblivious Johnny; pilot Zander Barcalow (Patrick Muldoon), Johnny's rival for Carmen's affections; and Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris), an intelligence officer whose psychic abilities only extend to animals. Every film needs its expository time, and this section of the film is an obvious timekiller before the war heats up, but Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier put forth very little effort, if any, to make these characters and their situations halfway interesting. More energy and thought is expended in the acidly satiric news bites and fascistic military recruitment propaganda that pepper this first half. How do the filmmakers expect the viewers to care about the characters if they obviously do not?

If anything could have saved this first hour and more "dramatic" moments that come later in the film, it would be the acting, but, as so painfully exemplified in Showgirls, Verhoeven does not have much of an eye for young talent. Van Dien, whom I remember not-so-fondly from his stints on ABC Daytime's One Life to Live and the amusingly cheesy but little-seen 1990 syndicated women-in-prison soap Dangerous Women, can bark out "Kill 'em all!" with the best of them, but he has little acting skill to offer beside his square jaw. It also does not help that he, Richards, and Meyer make the WASPiest Argentines since... well, Jonathan Pryce in Evita; and that they, Harris, and Muldoon look much too old to be the high schoolers their characters are supposed to be at the film's opening. The only cast member displaying some signs of life--aside from Michael Ironside, who is usual stern, effective self as teacher/commanding officer Jean Rasczak--is Meyer, who infuses Dizzy with moxie and spunk.

And while Verhoeven is miles away from Joe Eszterhas (thankfully so), some post-Showgirls fallout is still in evidence, most blatantly in a ridiculously gratuitous co-ed shower scene, and more subtly so in its anti-feminism. I usually do not like to include spoilers in my reviews, but I cannot address this point without giving something away, so skip the next paragraph if you wish not to have some details spoiled...

When a male character is able to destroy a humongous tanker bug, he is celebrated as a hero; when a female character does the same--which no other person save that one male is able to do--she receives no credit. A female soldier mortally wounded in combat bravely accepts her impending death, but not because she did her part in saving the human race. In the end, her passing is worth it to her because... she had the chance to sleep with a studly conquest. A female character supplies a critical coup de grace against the aliens, but who is carried on everyone's shoulders like a hero at the end? A male who did not do much of anything.

Its problems aside, Starship Troopers does deliver what the audience comes for, which is two-plus hours of no-brainer entertainment, filled with the graphic ultraviolence that has become associated with the name Paul Verhoeven. But as fun as much of the movie is, its superficiality is quite dismaying coming from Verhoeven, who once upon a time melded electrifying action with plot and character in RoboCop and Total Recall. Starship Troopers is not the return to form for Verhoeven many have called it--in the end, it is just a step in the right direction, albeit a fairly entertaining one.

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