As a satire on the excessive use of force by mankind, STARSHIP TROOPERS plays like a children’s film chock with enough violence and gore for a blood lusting sadist. From the opening moments, during a television broadcast occurring at the most inopportune of times, we are exposed to some of this carnage for the firs time, as the news reporter to which the transmission is focused is torn to pieces by a large arachnid. Its here that we are quickly given an idea of how this film is going to pan out and while it’s obviously bad, bad quickly becomes the beauty of it all.
The rest of STARSHIP TROOPERS continues along this path, showcasing it’s narratives and then repeatedly cutting back to brief interactive video segments that reveal one of the many propagandist messages followed by a prompt for whatever hypothetical entity that might be viewing the program to learn more on the topic. There were moments when watching the film that I was unsure as to if the film was intended to tell a story or if, within the context of their world, the entire thing was an explanation of the message that preceded it. Its not like it matters either way, but it’s definitely a possibility that the entire work is meant to serve as a Federation recruitment tool and if it was, I’d say it was a pretty damn good one.
Now, getting to the meat of the film, in between those aforementioned interstitials, there’s this little story about a guy named Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) and his love interest, Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), two high school graduates/Federation recruits who are separated by their career ambitions – and mathematical capabilities. With one wanting to be a fleet pilot and the other only capable of becoming a member of the “mobile infantry” (read: foot soldier), the two are separated across the galaxy, both strangely enough with parties interested in the demise of their relationship. On Rico’s front, there’s Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer) a “friend” from their schooling days who has wanted to give young Rico her goodies since for quite some time. While their cat and mouse game is playing out, spicing things up on Carmen’s end is Zandar Barcalow (Patrick Muldoon), a suitor from a rival school who blatantly makes his intentions with Rico’s main squeeze known, something that he never takes lightly.
With these two love triangles stirring the character’s emotional pots and an attack on the protagonist’s strangely Aryan Buenos Aires of the future provoking a war against the “bugs” responsible for the assault, the stage is set for some pretty outlandish visual effects and what appear to be the most insanely unrealistic combat situations of their time. Yes, even with a complete disregard for the fact that their enemy is an entire solar system of giant spiders, beetles and other unidentified arthropods, the fighting winds up being worst than my suspension of belief would warrant. The fact that they are future warriors, yet have no means of consistently fighting their foes with anything that doesn’t require them entering their direct striking distance is beyond me. That and the fact that they have no ground or air strategy or tactics (at one point the aircrafts in their fleet were colliding into one another due to a total lack of any form of prior preparation) makes it hard to believe that this is any form of intelligent collaborative war effort by the inhabitants of planet Earth.
Digging deeper, while the novel from which the book is adapted is accused of promoting fascism and military rule, the film seems to completely turn the tables, serving as a satire on those concepts. Continually cutting back to the propagandist video segments, it appears as though the filmmakers were aiming to ridicule war ideologies, particularly fascism, as a whole. This theme is carried through in other aspects of the film, including the officer’s uniforms & military-speak, and that’s the humor of it all. The film totally plays like an anti-war film that still wants you to enjoy the grandeur of war. At times, it’s a complete mockery of the evils of war and how it affects mankind, yet moments later, it plays up the special effects to demonstrate the spectacle, demonstrating a complete over glorification of battle.
Strangely enough, one of my favorite characters, who plays what could be interpreted as being either a completely minor or, conversely, the most important role, is Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris). The exponentially more intellectual – not to mention, psychic – third wheel to our star couple, Jenkins joins the Federation but never actual serves in combat as his smarts allow him to become a member of the Federation’s military intelligence via his admission to their “Games & Theory” division. As a character in the film, his social ambiguity is quite perplexing and in many ways fun. In scenes that he commands, its almost impossible to tell if he is being serious or taking a stab at sarcastic humor, something that on several occasions, shifts the mood of the film. It’s definitely a welcomed curveball. Seldom does NPH disappoint, and this is not an exception to the general rule.
At the end of the day, one can’t – and shouldn’t – take any film with any emphasis on the hunt for a large “brain bug” serious. While there may be a bit of speculation regarding the propositions the film makes regarding man and war, the fact that the movie approaches it with a sense of humor is what makes this film so bad and good at the same damn time. It’s a large joke that, while perhaps containing a serious commentary on society, can be enjoyed on the surface as a totally different beast. After everything I’ve heard over the years, that’s what I was looking for when I pursued this gem and, whether you’ve seen it before or not, I’d suggest that you turn off your mind and watch it sans brain function. Sure it might not make you any brighter, but you’ll have a good time enjoying STARSHIP TROOPERS for the first – or hundredth – time. I sure did.
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