Starship Troopers

That wacky Paul Verhoeven is at it again. One minute into the first of several satirical "Fed Net" commercials running through his latest sci-fi schlocker, Starship Troopers, a Net correspondent reporting on the enemy Arachnids is overtaken by one of the bugs. The bug wrenches the man into the air with its mandibles and clicks them. C-r-r-u-nnchhh!!!! The reporter's limbs go sailing like dog food chunks. The threat of the bugs to the human race is established.

Troopers, adapted from a novel by sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein, is made to order for Verhoeven's grim vision. In it, Earth's people have banded together to defend the planet from giant roving bugs. And much like the director's acclaimed Robocop, it gets only more ridiculous from this oddball outset. After the subtle opening, Verhoeven quickly moves us up close to the bright young faces of the starship troopers, Earth's intergalactic military force. Johnny (Casper Van Dien) signs up with the mobile infantry to impress his high school sweetheart, Carmen (Denise Richards), herself a sign-up for the fleet academy as a starship pilot. In a scene typical of Verhoeven's jarring futuristic style, Carmen's button-cute face is rocketed away from Johnny with implied violence as she heads off to training.

Johnny hits boot camp as the film hits high camp. His training instructor recalls the sickest parts of Full Metal Jacket's first act, without a hint of self-consciousness. He's a shameless rip-off that spirals the flick into outright parody. Yep, Troopers derides the jackass war-machine mentality of the US of A with a bombast that'd do Stanley Kubrick proud. Right.

This is a big, dumb movie about essentially American world soldiers who wage a pathetic war on an alien race because, as we are told, we disturbed them on their turf. But Verhoeven never presses judgment on that colonialist item. Instead, as the film collapses into a neat us-vs.-them donnybrook, Heinlein's discourse on fascism drowns in a river of insect blood and brains. The countless decapitated bodies and exploded heads make this more of a comic book than anything else. Maybe youngsters are the best target for Verhoeven's turgid torrent against imperialism, even if they miss the symbolism of the trooper generals' Gestapo-like flowing capes. Ugh. Better luck next time.

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