Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Starring Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Dina Meyer. (1997, R, 125 min.)
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Nov. 7, 1997
How would mankind respond to an invasion of giant extraterrestrial insects who can travel interstellar space and annihilate millions with blasts of nuclear plasma from their butts? Starship Troopers, a classic summer blockbuster inexplicably displaced to mid-autumn, answers this timeless question with goofy charm, high camp flamboyance, and unwavering faith that nothing succeeds like excess. And of course, when the game is excess, the first name that pops to mind is Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Total Recall). Using Robert Heinlein's more subtle novel as only a general reference point, Verhoeven and screenwriter Edward Neumeier revisit the formula that worked so well for them in 1987's Robocop: wall to wall blood `n' guts laced with surprisingly keen social satire, much of it targeting the fatuousness of media culture. Crass sexual exploitation? Natch, especially given the opportunities provided by a cast of sleek young actors and actresses playing the starship pilots and infantrymen who battle the alien creepy crawlies. Howard Sternesque single-entendre humor, coed military showers, and battlefield sex all remind us that this is, in fact, the work of Showgirls' mastur-mind, though in this adolescent context, Verhoeven's trademark salaciousness seems perfectly apropos. Leading the warriors into the fray is Johnny Rico (Van Dien), a fair-haired, brutally cheekboned young action hero sired by John Milius and Leni Riefenstahl. Savoring this cast's energetically mediocre acting is great fun in a Melrose Place sort of way, and the abundance of camp classic dialogue rivals even the aforementioned Showgirls (“The goddamn bugs whacked us, Johnny!”; “You're some kind of a fat, smart bug, aren't you?”). The lethal beasties, ranging from ottoman-sized thrips to gargantuan beetles and slugs to shrieking swarms of razor-jawed “arachnids” are masterfully rendered and animated by Amalgamated Dynamics. Insectophobes in the audience should count on spending the night fully clothed in bed with a can of Black Flag on the nightstand. And those bugs certainly blow up good, erupting in copious showers of carapace fragments and lava lamp-hued bug juice during the series of wildly entertaining battle scenes that bring the story to a breathless close. (Note: we're talking unprecedented levels of gore here; when it comes to biting off heads, sucking brains and ripping entrails, Verhoeven's rapacious critters obliterate all previous movie-monster benchmarks.) As noted, Starship Troopers is built to summer movie specs and it's by those standards it should be judged. This means the pertinent qualities we're looking for are a special effects budget that would shame the Pentagon, cataclysmic violence, high levels of ambient horniness, and total lack of pretense to any goal higher than pure, mindless fun. Starship Troopers delivers all of these goods in spades, making it my pick for the belated summer smash of the year.