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'Starship': Buggy Ride

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 7, 1997

  Movie Critic

Paul Verhoeven
Casper Van Dien;
Dina Meyer;
Denise Richards;
Jake Busey;
Neil Patrick Harris;
Clancy Brown;
Seth Gilliam;
Patrick Muldoon;
Michael Ironside
Running Time:
2 hours, 10 minutes
For sex scenes, nudity, violence and profanity.
The best thing about "Starship Troopers," Paul Verhoeven’s tongue-in-cheek science fiction epic? The insects. I refer to the oversized spiders and bugs -- creatures from outer space! -- who emerge from their dark holes to slice and dice human beings into chunks of quivering, crimson flesh. If you don’t like widespread, almost cartoonish mutilation, and intergalactic warfare, this movie is definitely not for you. But if you thrill to killer arachnids and disgustingly plump larvae who suggest hideous, flabby cousins of Jabba the Hutt, get ready.

Too bad about the movie. In this adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic, set in the distant future, the humans are definitely second-best and second-rate. Newcomer Casper Van Dien is more than gym-ready, and his orthodontist should be proud, but as central character Johnny Rico, he’s a fairly bland presence. And as the two women that wreak havoc in Johnny’s heart, Dina Meyer (a graduate of "Beverly Hills 90210") and Denise Richards (another TV being, from "Against the Grain") are hardly luminous star material. It’s as if Verhoeven’s "Total Recall" has been overrun by bad sitcom stars.

Johnny is a high school jock who’s somewhat directionless and deeply in love with girlfriend Carmen (Richards). When he graduates, he volunteers for the Mobile Infantry for his military service. His move is simply to impress Carmen, who has joined the Fleet Academy as a starship pilot.

Meanwhile, Dizzy Flores (Meyer), who makes no secret of her love for Johnny, follows him to the Mobile Infantry. Evading Dizzy’s come-ons, Johnny burns a candle for Carmen, who has clearly finished with him.

Everything changes when the aforementioned insects wipe out Buenos Aires -- Johnny’s hometown. Horrified by this tragedy (although in this movie, tender emotions amount to superficial distractions), Johnny turns gung-ho. He leads his men to the bug-infested planet of Klendathu, determined to kick gigantic insect butt.

It’s practically a relief that Johnny no longer has time to mope about his beloved Carmen. What happens to Johnny, Carmen and Dizzy in the relationship department is definitely pushed into the hinterland. It’s wartime now. Working his blunt, gallery-playing fingers to the bone, Verhoeven (who also made "RoboCop," "Total Recall," "Basic Instinct" and "Showgirls") pursues a comic-book, Saturday-matinee approach to violence. But although he achieves a humorous edge, Verhoeven’s movie never gets close to the campy spirit of his own "RoboCop."

"Mobile Infantry made me the man I am today," says a Federal Service enrollment processor to Johnny. The man has a prosthetic hand and no legs.

"I need a corporal," says General Owen (Marshall Bell), promoting Johnny in the heat of the campaign. "You’re it until you die or I find somebody better."

The special effects are literally out of this world, thanks to bugmeister Phil Tippett (the man behind "Jurassic Park"), Scott E. Anderson (who created the spaceship visual effects) and Scott Squires, visual effects supervisor. There’s nothing like the sight of thousands of scuttling, hideous, practically indestructible insects crawling up the sides of a fortress, hellbent on destroying the human race. As they keep coming and coming, they’re the only things in this movie earning your money.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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