Film review: Starship Troopers

Published: Friday, Nov. 7 1997 12:01 a.m. MST

Some movies — "Mars Attacks!" comes to mind — are so purposely awful that they revel in sheer cheesiness and are therefore guilty pleasures. Then there are films like "Starship Troopers," a movie so extremely awful and unpleasant that it dares you to not like it.

But director Paul Verhoeven dared a bit too much with this misguided attempt to mix B-movie dialogue with '90s-style, special effects-laden storytelling.

"Starship Troopers" is a nonstop splatterfest so devoid of taste and logic that it makes even the most brainless summer blockbusters look intelligent.

Unfortunately, audiences will probably eat this gooey sci-fi/thriller up with a spoon — at least until something bigger (or better, which wouldn't be hard at all) comes along.

With this film, Verhoeven finally proves once and for all that "Showgirls" and "Basic Instinct" weren't aberrations. He really has no restraint when it comes to presenting objectionable content, especially sex and graphic violence.

In fact, his only goal these days seems to be pushing the buttons of the Motion Picture Association of America. If "Starship Troopers" can't get an NC-17 for its over-the-top violence and sickening gore, nothing can.

However, the movie's dull beginning is something straight out of a nighttime soap opera (a kind of "Melrose Space," if you will), as we're introduced to some rather old-looking high school graduates — jock Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien); his brainy girlfriend, Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards); Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), who's moony-eyed for Johnny; and Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris), a creepy latent telepath.

Upon graduation, the four friends wind up joining the Federal Service — with Johnny and Dizzy becoming foot soldiers in the Mobile Infantry, Carmen sent to the Fleet Academy to become a starship pilot and Carl heading off on a mysterious science project.

Both Johnny and Dizzy quickly wind up on the front line when Earth goes to war with the inhabitants of the Klendathu system (called "arachnids," though they bear six legs!). Soon they encounter vicious giant insects who proceed to tear their comrades to shreds.

Despite heavy casualties, the infantry is sent back to the battle lines in hopes of capturing a "brainbug," the apparent masterminds of the insectoid invasion.

Admittedly, the film's "bigger is better" special effects are impressive, but they're more than offset by performances from one of the worst casts in recent movie history (which would be laughable if it weren't so atrocious).

Meyer and Harris are lucky to be simply wooden; the vacuous performances of newcomers Richards and Van Dien defy easy explanation.

And they're matched by a script so bad it's mind-boggling (by "RoboCop" writer Ed Neumeier), replete with hokey, cliched dialogue straight out propaganda war films of the '40s. Even the mock news telecasts (akin to the funny news blurbs in "RoboCop") are exercises in overkill.

As mentioned, "Starship Troopers" should have earned an NC-17 for its gross-out violent and gory content. As it is, it's rated an extremely hard R, also for nudity, profanity and some vulgar gags and references.