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Review: Fascist 'Starship' troops lacking in irony

Scenes from November 11, 1997
Web posted at: 6:20 p.m. EST (2320 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Good news! Hollywood has finally screwed up the courage and ambition to make a movie about super-buffed Orkin men killing irate, 10-foot-tall spiders, and I say it's long overdue. For a while there I thought they were gonna keep wasting our time on stupid stuff, like "Spawn," in which a vengeful mutant roams the Earth accompanied by an insane farting clown from hell.

Once again, there's no point in my reviewing the movie I've just watched. Everybody's going to argue that "Starship Troopers" is supposed to be ridiculous, and that's why it was worth all the cash and energy that went into it. It's very loud, very elaborate, very expensive foolishness, they'll say, and isn't that what this country is really all about?

This is the kind of logic that actually got a guy like Ross Perot on the ballot for president, so I suppose there's no fighting it anymore. But I'm not about to surrender. There's a lot going on in "Starship Troopers" that's nowhere near as benign as people want to pretend it is, and willfully ignoring it doesn't make watching this thing any less demeaning.

Going in, I figured the movie would be idiotic, but I'd be able to enjoy some amazing special effects and get out intact. Well, the effects are spectacular (at $100 million, they'd better be), but I left the theater dumbstruck and deeply saddened by what I had seen.

Director Paul Verhoeven (who's also brought us gruel like "Basic Instinct" and "Showgirls") has made the world's first winkingly fascist film, and I'm not over-analyzing to come to that conclusion.

The story is set in a futuristic society in which war-glorifying propaganda films are repeatedly shown on TV and citizenship is only given to people who join the military.

The officers in that military have no qualms about snapping an arm or jamming a knife through the hand of a cadet who steps out of line ... that is, when they don't tie them up and whip them. (This is all supposedly done tongue-in-cheek, if you can imagine that.)

Many of the uniforms are highly reminiscent of the ones worn by Hitler's SS troops; some, in fact, are near-exact duplicates, including shiny jackboots.

The cadets themselves (males and females train, and, of course, shower together), are personality-challenged hunks of perfect muscles, breasts, and hair. They also have big, dreamy eyes.

Clips from "Starship Troopers"
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Partial trailer: 2.2MB/43 sec. QuickTime Movie
Full trailer: 2 min. VXtreme streaming video

The first hour of the movie, during which the young protagonists pine for the chance to gloriously die in uniform, is comprised of the kinds of actors you see on an Aaron Spelling program kissing and going to dances while being trained in proper killing techniques.

It's "Melrose Place" meets "Triumph of the Will," and if that isn't a logical, highly calculated extension of where our guts-and-glamour-obsessed pop culture is leading us, I don't know what is. This is not an accident; it's blatantly shoved in your face. The sheer visceral thrill of it all is bound to put fannies in the seats, so good taste or common sense be damned. Just like Nuremberg.

I know. You think I'm going too far. Well, what are we supposed to make of the fact that when these Beverly Hills Aryans go into battle, it's against faceless masses, huge bugs that are considered to be so brainless, all you have to do is spray bullets into them and watch the guts fly? How can you make a "war" movie in which the enemy is not expected to be capable of any kind of strategic thought? Just gather them together and kill as many as you can, all at once. They're not human anyway. Those of you who have ever bothered to crack open a history book will have heard this one before.

Not only is "Starship Troopers" vapid and manipulative, it's actually arrogant about its own emptiness. Verhoeven (who truly ought to be ashamed) throws in the occasional silly joke, which is his way of saying that this is all in good fun, but that stretches our definitions of both "good" and "fun" to the outer limits. The idea is that this a parody of a war movie. Fascism, being a great deal less than pure evil, is really just silly. All these beautiful young people line up to die for their country, then they do so, and hardly anything is left. Isn't that a scream?

You have to wonder exactly who Verhoeven is aiming this so-called joke at. World War II irony is not going to play very well with modern teen-agers who, in all likelihood, couldn't tell you who Richard Nixon was, let alone Adolf Hitler. (And don't argue that an R rating keeps them out of the theater, because we all know that it doesn't.) That said, I hardly think that a man who devoted two years of his life to making "Showgirls" is in any position to be wielding irony as a storytelling device. Verhoeven needs to put that thing down before he hurts somebody.

If you want to see "Starship Troopers" and mull over its content, go ahead. I'm telling you, though, you'd be wise to keep your kids away from this stuff. Joyous, chest-pounding mutilations, bodies and bugs exploding, people getting ripped in half. The hits just keep on coming. There's also nudity, if that could possibly make any difference. Rated R. 129 minutes.


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