Starship Troopers: a review

A review.

(Way back when, I used to do a lot of SF/F reviews as part of the Postviews site. Eventually Postviews will be incorporated into this site, but until then this star of the series can find a home here.)

I couldn't wait for that smarmy little brunette to die.

It's the near future, shortly after the Californian invasion of Buenos Aires which looks like a live action version of "The Jetsons" done by the cast of "90210". (Albeit with considerably less animation.) Here our pearly-teethed teens are beset with those eternal problems of the spirit: Who will win the big football game? Who shall I go to the prom with? Shall I join the military, dress up as a Nazi and lay waste to the known universe? Since Michael "Bad SF is my middle name" Ironside is playing their mono-handed Civics teacher (with his amputated stump sticking out a curious extra 15 cm from his shoulder), we can safely arrive at two conclusions: (1) We are in Bad Movie heaven, (2) Universe, bend over.

Sure enough, uber-Aryan Johnny Rico (played by that famous Argentinean actor Casper Van Dien) ends up in the grunts and is sent across to the next sound stage for routine bastardisation in Movie Cliche #253 (Boot Camp). His friends show considerably more sense and join the technical branches. Johnny's lust-thang Carmen (played by the noted Hispanic thespian Denise Richards) becomes a pilot, where she grins like a prom-queen on Prozac as she hurls around million-ton starships. Since their buddy Carl (that noted Latin artiste Neil Patrick Harris, a.k.a. Doogie Howser) can tell his ferret to crawl up his mother's leg, he naturally gets put in charge of grand strategy. Only Dizzy (the up-and-coming Spanish performer Dina Meyer, known for her subtle, tear-jerking performance alongside Keanu Reeves in "Johnny Catatonic") also joins the infantry. You see, Johnny is her lust-thang and she realises that as soon as she sleeps with him, she can be killed off and leave the movie.

Time passes, although all too slowly for the audience. Carmen realises Johnny has the IQ of toast and sends him a "Dear Johnny" letter. Dizzy, in an attempt to precipitate her own demise, shows her breasts. In a training exercise, Johnny accidentally gets a fellow marine killed. The other recruits - willing to have their limbs broken, trachea crushed and be stabbed and shot at by their drill instructor - find Johnny's clumsiness unacceptable and start dropping out of the program. (Or maybe it was his acting they find unacceptable.) But before Johnny can follow suite, the dreaded alien bugs fart an asteroid across the galaxy and squish Buenos Aires. Although Johnny's parents look relieved just before they are crushed, everyone else knows it's time to kick some arthropod butt!

Johnny and his grunts are choppered out to the Bug homeworld, where the starships are threatened by bugs belching nuclear plasma into orbit. (I swear, I am not making this up.) But Carmen's serotonin levels are still wildly over par and, grinning like the widow of a recently dead rock star, she hauls her ship out of the way. Johnny and Co are meanwhile demonstrating the dazzling power of future military tactics: dump a bunch of guys armed with M16s on a planet and get them to wander around in a tight pack until they are eaten and thus show how the monster works. Sure 'nuff, the bugs show up and have far more charisma than the rest of the cast. Demoralised, the marines retreat, leaving their less likeable colleagues to be eaten.

Digression 1: The Starship Troopers Drinking Game

  • Sip whenever a limb is cut off.
  • Quaff every time someone is cut in half.
  • Sip whenever Diz lusts after Johnny.
  • Quaff any time that smarmy little brunette smiles.
  • Scull any time someone makes an heroic sacrifice.

The survivors are transferred to another unit, the 5th Generic Tough Hombres. Quelle surprise - it's lead by Michael Ironside, still serving time in purgatory for "Highlander 2". It seems they're getting sent to the poetically named "Planet P" to further the plot. But upon getting there, they are attacked by - giant mosquitoes! (No, it's too terrible!) Ironside makes Johnny promise to kill him should he ever be crippled. Unfortunately Johnny doesn't reply, "If it comes to that, I'll do both of us." The grunts come across a devastated firebase and a cowardly general. He tells them that the bugs are sucking people's brains out (too late!) and then gets eaten. Ironside has his legs chewed off by a bug and gets Johnny to kill him - not because he is crippled but because he is trapped in a crap film. Unfortunately Johnny doesn't cap the rest of the cast for equally debilitating mental injuries. Subsequently, Dizzy gets chomped by a bug, because we got to see her breasts earlier on.

Back on the starship, they load Dizzy into a coffin and eject her into space so she can land on the Genesis planet and come back in the sequel "Starship Troopers 2: The Search for Plot". Carmen struggles not to smile during the funeral, Dizzy's convenient death clearing the way for her and Johnny's lust-thang. Then Doogie shows up, in full Gestapo regalia. It now becomes clear why everyone looks like Nazis: the war is being run by geeks and geeky kids think that Nazi stuff is really cool. Doogie explains he knew Johnny's team would be massacred, it was all part of the plan. Johnny has no strong objections to this, illustrating a good reason why he is in the infantry and Doogie in command. Anyway, the Doog-ster explains that since the bugs can launch asteroids from halfway across the galaxy and have them land right on top of cities, they must be intelligent. (Duh.) So it's back to Planet P to catch a "brainbug".

Digression 2: Southpark Troopers

Wouldn't this movie be all the more plausible if it was cheap animation and used the "Southpark" characters?

STAN: Dude! You're got a bug sucking your brains out!

CARTMAN: I hate dat, da way dose bugs crawl up yo' arse and suck your brains out.

KENNY: Mi fnk ht d bgsar minhellgen.

KYLE: Good point Kenny, there's probably a form of bug we haven't seen yet, a brainbug.

BUG: Arrrhhhhh!!!

STAN: Oh my god! They've killed Kenny!

Back they go to the disused quarries of Planet P. But Carmen and the faux competitor for her affections, Zander (hitherto known as "Deadmeat"), crash on the planet in the middle of the attack. They are captured by the bugs and before Carmen can explain her "don't worry, be happy" philosophy to the insects, they suck Zander's brain. Johnny gives a stirring speech that they can't just go and rescue her, because the attack is too important. He then goes and rescues her. Meanwhile the other troops have caught the brainbug. And who better to mindmeld with a giant slug than Doogie Howser! He does the Spock thang and announces that the brainbug is afraid.

So am I Doogie, so am I.

Digression 3: Five Military SF Books That Would Make Better Films

  1. The Forever War
  2. The Forever War
  3. The Forever War
  4. The Forever War
  5. Any Lensman book

Humour mode off. There will undoubtedly be those who will defend "Starship Troopers" by saying that it is a comedy. Certainly there are moments that are intended to be funny, but it is no more a comedy than "Total Recall" or "Robocop". Similarly, some may say that the future depicted is meant to be dystopian and terrible. The lie is put to this by again invoking Verhoeven's other two SF films. Both of them depicted unpleasant regimes, even ones with which the characters cooperated with and supported. But the heroes never liked their worlds, or showed it as a viable or desirable one. If Verhoeven is attempting to be satirical, he fails utterly and my suspicion is that he is attempting to have it both ways, to both laugh at and cheer the fascist, testosterone-poisoned, gungho histrionics. The situation is not helped by a wooden cast that can only aspire to being B-grade, dialogue that gives the word "cliche" a bad name, and a plot that could be second guessed by undiscovered tribes in the Phillipine jungles.

"Starship Troopers" is possibly the worst SF movie ever made (0/bomb), a leprous turd of a film that's so horribly demented that it immediately is assumed into the pantheon of Truly Bad Movies, with a crassness score of 4 Lamberts. In fact it is so terrible that you should rush out and see it now because you will not believe how bad it is. Tuberculosis on the Sid and Nancy scale.

"Starship Troopers". Released 1997. Director Paul Verhoeven. Starring Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris, Clancy Brown, Patrick Muldoon, Michael Ironside.