'Starship' Bloopers Review: Loaded with bugs, sloppy science-fiction spoof makes a joke of itself.

November 07, 1997|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

There's one thing that can be said for "Starship Troopers." In a world where we're all looking for more time, it manages to make two hours seem like four.

But those hours are spent suffering through an interminable, muddled mess -- hours the filmgoer might more profitably use re-grouting the bathroom or turning the compost.

It's probably safe to assume that director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier, who were responsible for the brilliant science-fiction parody "RoboCop," wanted to cast "Starship Troopers" in a similar vein: a so-bad-it's-good tribute to B-movies of times past, a send-up that winks a sophisticated eye at its own cheesy effects and bad dialogue.

But somewhere along the way, Verhoeven lost control of Robert Heinlein's original story and let it spin way out of his usual tight control. Rambling, incomprehensible and largely laugh-free, "Starship Troopers" would be a good movie for kiddies if it weren't for some appalling gore and a few scattered vulgarities. Instead, it's fit only for those teens and grown-ups who enjoy dismemberment, barfing and bug juices of sundry hue and viscosity.

The year is... well, we don't know exactly what year it is, save that it's some time in the not-distant future, when Earth has become one gorgeous mosaic of a global village. In fact, the only thing threatening the peace is a distant race of arachnids -- giant fire-breathing bugs that evidently have some major issues with Earthlings.

"Starship Troopers" is set at the height of the Creepy Crawly Cold War. Inspired by anti-bug propaganda worthy of Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer) and Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) graduate from high school in their hometown of Buenos Aires with one goal in mind: to join the armed forces and stamp out the pesky bugs once and for all.

Handsome Johnny and macha Diz join the infantry, while brainy Carmen goes to flying school to become a starship pilot. Carl, meanwhile, perfects his telepathic powers to become a psi-fi spy.

It takes a lot of slogging through flabby boot-camp drama and in-flight romance before the bugs finally attack, and what a drag that payoff is. Devoid of the personality that made their "Men In Black" counterparts so appealing, these pests -- digitized into a bland, featureless mass of legs and antennae -- do their thing by sending flatulent blasts of flammable goo into space from bellies that look like they're made of Tiffany glass. (Those are the big guys. The foot soldiers are huge armored spiders whose penchant for impaling their victims gives new meaning to the term "pincer movement.")

The mystery of "Starship Troopers," aside from the predictable questions regarding what, precisely, the filmmakers were thinking, is that somehow the bugs keep getting smarter than their human opponents; the filmmakers lay out the explanation in slurpingly graphic detail, every chance they get.

The attractive cast of "Starship Troopers" must be the oldest high schoolers to hit the screen since Frankie and Annette; most of them are veterans of prime time's Beverly Hills Repertory Company ("90210," "Melrose," et al.), and accordingly their performances run the gamut from wooden to catatonic. (Jake Busey admittedly provides some toothy goofiness to the role of Johnny's best army buddy, although he should henceforth stipulate in his contract that he will never again be filmed playing a green plexiglass violin. Ever.)

There are times when the satire that "Starship Troopers" might have been flickers, only to fizzle and die. Periodic "infomercials," designed to evoke World War II newsreels, leaven the movie a bit, and Michael Ironside provides a few genuinely funny moments as the kids' zealot of a civics professor.

But such fleeting passes at comedy can't begin to make up for the endless tedium they punctuate.

"Starship Troopers" may magically turn two hours into four, but those are still two hours that could have been happily spent with

the compost.

'Troopers'

Starring Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer and Jake Busey

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Released by Tristar Pictures

L Rated R (graphic sci-fi violence and gore, language, nudity)

Sun score: *

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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