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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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Edward Johnson-Ott review follows video review
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
3.  MrBrown read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
4.  Walter Frith read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
5.  David Wilcock read the review movie reviewmovie review
6.  Jim VanFleet read the review movie review
7.  Mark Fleming read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
½ star out of 4

The rich legacy of cinema has left us with certain indelible images. The tinkling Christmas tree bell in "It's A Wonderful Life." Bogie's speech at the airport in "Casablanca." Little Elliott's flying bicycle, silhouetted by the moon in "E.T." And now, "Starship Troopers" director Paul Verhoeven adds one more image that will live in our memories forever: Doogie Houser doing a Vulcan mind meld with a giant slug.

"Starship Troopers," loosely based on the Robert Heinlein novel, is the story of an interstellar war between humans and giant insects. In the hands of Verhoeven, the mammoth sci-fi battle flick is one of the most astonishingly bad films ever made, a monument to inept filmmaking on a colossal scale. To put it simply, it's a bug bomb.

In "Robocop" and "Total Recall," Verhoeven displayed a gift for creating an entertaining mix of violence, special effects and social satire, and "Starship Troopers" starts off in similar fashion, with a tongue-in-cheek futuristic military recruitment ad that shows promise. Things go downhill fast, though, as we meet our heroes, a group of Buenos Aires teens preparing to graduate from high school. Inexplicably, Johnny Rico, Carmen Ibenez, Dizzy Flores and Xander Barcalow are played by square-jawed Anglo kids who look like they just stepped out of a Mountain Dew commercial.

It's a veritable "Alpha Centuri 90210" as we watch the love-smitten teens squabble in the name of love. Michael Ironside plays their teacher, who waves around a cheesy fake severed arm while lecturing about civic responsibilities. Eventually, the kids join the military, with dreams of glory in their addled little minds. One of their classmates, Carl Jenkins ("Doogie Houser's" Neil Patrick Harris,) snags a job in military intelligence because of his strong psychic abilities. He displays his gift by psychically ordering a pet ferret to crawl up his Mother's leg.

A long, dull boot camp sequence follows, enlivened only by an extended coed shower scene where the recruits swap snappy banter as the "Showgirls" director's camera roams over their buff bodies. Finally, a full hour into the film, the war finally starts and we meet the enemy. The bugs hail from Klendathu and colonize planets by hurling their spores into space. They attack starships by spinning around and firing deadly plasma blasts from their rears. Yes, incredible as it seems, the bugs actually kill with cosmic farts.

A phenomenally large amount of money was spent creating the computer animated insects and the results are mixed at best. Sweeping distant shots depicting hordes of giant bugs racing to attack are both impressive and scary, but the close-ups are a different matter. The insects have an odd, artificial look, like origami creations with a mottled plastic coating. The attack scenes are intensely violent, as one would expect from Verhoeven, but the overall look is too phony to generate any real tension. While the action is frantic, the military strategy, wildly illogical even by Hollywood standards, grows tiresome quickly. Verhoeven tries to spice things up by throwing in more satiric news coverage, but the faux-jingoistic scenes of children "doing their part for the war effort" by squishing roaches on a sidewalk aren't enough to make up for the long stretches of sheer dreck.

One can only guess what Paul Verhoeven was trying to do here. His customary one part satire, two parts ultra-violence formula is way out of whack, and most of the film just flounders. In "Showgirls" fashion, some scenes are almost bad enough to be good. An intergalactic kegger party, with Jake Busey playing "Dixie" on a green Plexiglas fiddle, has a certain bizarre appeal. A sex scene between two of the teens achieves a smarmy charm, enhanced a few minutes later when the female receives a fatal jab from a bug, but tells her hero that she doesn't mind dying. "It's okay," she gasps, "I got to have you!" And then, of course, there's Doogie's mind meld with a bug.

It's possible that Verhoeven was attempting to create an homage to the era of the original novel. Heinlein's pre-"Stranger In A Strange Land" books were aimed at adolescent males, and "Starship Troopers" has the antiseptic retro-future look of late 50s/early 60s sci-fi. The one cityscape shown is a Jetsons-like gleaming metropolis, with flying cars whizzing past an obvious matte painting. The hairstyles are retro too, straight from the Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello school of fashion.

Ultimately, Verhoeven's motives are irrelevant. He has produce a gargantuan film that fails as an action film or as a social satire. It even fails to be an entertaining bad movie. Avoid "Starship Troopers" at all costs.

Copyright 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott

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