Updated: May 14, 2022
B-List actors and on the nose dialogue offer up a satirical look at fascism and why there always has to be an enemy.
A film by Paul Verhoeven, “Starship Troopers” is loosely based on the military science fiction novel of the same name by Robert A. Heinlein published in 1959. B-movie staple Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Michael Ironside and Neil Patrick Harris star.
In the distant future relations are tense between humans and an alien race of arachnid type creatures.The “Bugs’” goal is to colonize distant planets by tossing their spore throughout the galaxy and hoping for the best.
It must be working because they are fierce, smart for an arthropod and give mankind a battle not soon to be forgotten. We start with the cocky Johnny Rico (Van Dien) attending high school with his love interest Carmen Ibanez (Richards) and his best friend Carl Jenkins, played by the incomparable Neil Patrick Harris. All wield a special skill of sorts- Carl’s psychic abilities, Carmen’s digit- friendly brain and Rico’s bravery coupled with that “aw, shucks” appeal. Rico, whose loyalty for love and country run deep, disobeys his parents and enlists in the military, following Carmen’s example. But he can not compete with her mentally and his quickly sent off to the Mobile Infantry division. They are quickly sent to war, each utilizing their particular skill sets and much destruction follows along with the intended effects of humor, passion, sadness and triumph.
The visual effects and a strong supporting cast are what make this movie transition from watchable to enjoyable. Michael Ironsides portrayal of Lt. Colonel Jean Rasczak is worth the price of admission alone and I feel he deserved more screen time. Journeyman, Casper Van Dien, was one reason why this movie was not as successful as hoped. He does a passable job, but a different leading man could not only have helped box office revenue but added another layer to what should have been a much deeper character. The dynamic between Dizzy, Carmen and Rico is childish and confusing. If Carmen is not unlike another of Denise Richards’ characters (Wild Things, anyone?), Rico might have had the best of all worlds. One thing that was a highlight was the always amazing Neil Patrick Harris and his emotional acting display at the triumphant end, which is enough to move even the most hardened of hearts. Clancy Brown and Rue McClanahan round out the supporting players to give the movie some sense of realism in their respective roles, as hard as that may be. A young Jake Busey plays Private Ace Levey (the best friend) and does an acceptable performance of comic relief with what lines he was given. This dynamic should have been better explored and could have added another element to Rico; an element in which the audience could experience the sharing of best friends and give a glimpse into the inner being of Rico.
With Paul Verhoeven at the helm, the movie accepts itself as an attempt of a summer blockbuster. Unfortunately it did not live up to its own expectations (105 mil budget) but has been appreciated later in time due to a cult following attributed to the subtleties of the director. Two of his other films “Total Recall” and “RoboCop” share some similarities by giving us a glimpse into the human psyche through video clips/commercials that assume society has already settled into a dystopian state. These clips motivate the dark side of humanity- war, death, sex, etc. and are enjoyed by the young and old as displayed images sprinkled throughout his films, including this one.
It is homage to Philip K. Dick, Yevgeny Zamytin and Orwell. Watch “Starship Troopers” as a satire, as a glimpse into a dysfunctional future or as a simple movie, and you will enjoy more than just the popcorn.