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Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Paul (ROBOCOP) Verhoeven's 1997 space war epic/military satire STARSHIP TROOPERS was certainly not for all tastes, featuring as it did plastic and impossibly pretty protagonists who you pretty much hated on sight (it was the film that singlehandedly ignited my loathing of Denise Richards; I still think she looks like a living bobble-head or a live-action version of one of the marionettes from the old THUNDERBIRDS show), outrageous and gory violence (a Verhoeven trademark, gods bless him), a huge and undulating "brain bug" that looked for all the world like the biggest vulva seen onscreen since LISZTOMANIA, and a look and atmosphere the brought to mind what STAR WARS would have looked like had it been the product of Nazi Germany and Leni Reifenstahl. Definitely a mix certain to polarize the opinions of the general filmgoing public and sci-fi geeks in particular, to say nothing of Robert Heinlein groupies who rightly griped that film had almost nothing to do with the author's classic 1959 science fiction novel, arguably the template for the "future war" genre, post- the era of space opera pulps. But what many in the audience somehow failed to realize was that Verhoeven's film was a straight-faced piss-take on the genre and a none-too-subtle satire aimed at brainless militarism, and as such I found it quite darkly funny, very entertaining and visually spectacular, especially when seen on the big screen, but most people I know completely fucking hated it, so if you're part of that camp you may want to bail out of this review right now.

Coming some eleven years after the original film — I didn't bother with STARSHIP TROOPERS 2: HERO OF THE FEDERATION because it's supposedly legendarily bad and has none of the original cast — this direct-to-DVD sequel came as a bit of a surprise to me insomuch that it managed to channel some of the spirit of the original film and maintain the anti-military satirical aspect, something I find welcome as the war in Iraq bloodily and pointlessly plods on with no end in sight.

Casper Van Dein's Johnny Rico: a nuanced examination of the career soldier (yeah, right).

Casper Van Dein returns as Johnny Rico — looking almost exactly as he did eleven years ago, except somehow more Tom of Finland-style buff — but he's the sole returning cast member and the new story is crammed to the rafters with yet more pretty, vapid and disposable cannon fodder, returning the viewer to what amounts to "90210 meets interstellar conflict." What passes for a plot involves a jingoistic Sky Marshall (Stephen Hogan, who rocks the ridiculously uber-patriotic and Toby Keith-like hit "A Good Day To Die") becoming stranded on a hostile world while Johnny Rico faces execution for insubordination at the hands of a former friend (Boris Kodjoe) who's now a general. Said general is in love with Captain Lola Beck (surfer hotness Jolene Blaylock, best known to one-handed sci-fi geeks as T'Pol from four seasons on ENTERPRISE), who apparently once knew Johnny Rico very well, if you know what I mean, and when her starship gets blown out of the sky it's up to her to safely herd a handful of survivors — including the increasingly insane Sky Marshall, a dimwitted cook, a tough guy engineer/grunt, and an annoying Christian flight attendant — toward a site where they can await rescue without getting ripped apart by the alien Bugs who infest the planet. But what Beck doesn't know is that a Federation admiral (the strangely named "Enolo Phid," played by Amanda Donohoe, the nekkid snakey vampire chick from Ken Russell's THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM) has vetoed all attempts at the survivors' rescue...but why? Anyway, after many intentionally asinine (but played straight) space soap opera developments, the paths of Johnny Rico and Captain Beck converge as Beck's general boyfriend puts his career on the line and illegally sends Rico and a squad of power-suited soldiers (the "Marauder" program) to to the rescue, giving Heinlein purists the power suits they've been bitching about since their exclsion form the original film.

The effects are a marked step down from the original, but that's to be expected in any sequel, especially one that isn't made for theatrical release, and keeping that in mind the effects on display here do the job well enough. The odd thing though is that the finished product feels like a random episode in a STARSHIP TROOPERS television series (I wish!), a feeling perhaps bolstered by the presence of former ENTERPRISE regular Jolene Blaylock, and that's by no means a complaint. Her role as captain Lola Beck is a lot of fun and she proves to be every bit as tough as Johnny Rico, something that proves invaluable as she pulls a LAWRENCE OF ARABIA while guiding her charges across desert wastes and trying to deal with the Bugs.

Captain Lola Beck, the coolest space hero in who knows how long.

In fact, I would have been perfectly happy if the film hadn't bothered with Johnny Rico's (intentional) one-dimensionality and had given the spotlight over to Captain Beck, something I hope they do should this be successful enough to warrant a sequel.

The only place where this sequel overreaches itself is in its criticism of religion, especially faith bolstered or found under fire; it's heavy-handed to an eye-rolling degree and is clearly a swipe at Dubya's ruinous clusterfuck of an administration, especially when the Federation newsfeed bluntly informs us that "faith is okay, peace is not," or something to that effect, a sentiment uttered by the aforementioned Enolo Phid. But, whatever. This is a perfectly enjoyable way to fill an hour and a half, and I welcome further installments if they're half as entertaining. TRUST YER BUNCHE and add this to your Netflix queue (provided you liked the original STARSHIP TROOPERS, otherwise it's like coming in at chapter seven of a thirteen-part serial).

Captain Lola Beck: give this character her own sequel, gawdammit!!!


Declan Shalvey said...

I agree about Denise Richards. She'd even be eerily distracting as a background prop! Can't stand her. She REALLY annoyed me in the first movie.

Something in my pants likes this new girl tho. Must be my phone, right?

Anonymous said...

So, does Amanda Donahoe continue her career trademark nudity in this one? Or were the producers too afraid that her legendary rack wasn't good enough to compete with someone half her age and experience?

As for Denise Richards, I agree, with two exceptions: Wild Things, and the duet with a plastic Jesus in Drop Dead Gorgeous (the funniest scene in that film).

Bunche said...

Sadly there's no nudity from Donohoe or Blaylock (dammit!), although there is a certain amount of coed nudity, a la the first film.

Anonymous said...

"Heinlein purists... the power suits they've been bitching about"!?!

Are you barking mad!

"But I do want to mention a little about powered suits, partly because I was fascinated by them and also because that was what led me into trouble. No complaints - I rated what I got.

An M. I. lives by his suit the way a K-9 man lives by and with and on his doggie partner. Powered armor is one-half the reason we call ourselves "mobile infantry" instead of just "infantry." (The other half are the spaceships that drop us and the capsules we drop in.) Our suits give us better eyes, better ears, stronger backs (to carry heavier weapons and more ammo), better legs, more intelligence ("intelligence" in the military meaning; a man in a suit can be just as stupid as anybody else only he had better not be), more firepower, greater endurance, less vulnerability.

A suit isn't a space suit - although it can serve as one. It is not primarily armor - although the Knights of the Round Table were not armored as well as we are. It isn't a tank - but a single M. I. private could take on a squadron of those things and knock them off unassisted if anybody was silly enough to put tanks against M. I. A suit is not a ship but it can fly, a little on the other hand neither spaceships nor atmosphere craft can fight against a man in a suit except by saturation bombing of the area he is in (like burning down a house to get one flea!). Contrariwise we can do many things that no ship - air, submersible, or space - can do.

"There are a dozen different ways of delivering destruction in impersonal wholesale, via ships and missiles of one sort or another, catastrophes so widespread, so unselective, that the war is over because that nation or planet has ceased to exist. What we do is entirely different. We make war as personal as a punch in the nose. We can be selective, applying precisely the required amount of pressure at the specified point at a designated time - we've never been told to go down and kill or capture all left-handed redheads in a particular area, but if they tell us to, we can. We will."