"Soldier of Orange," now at the K-B MacArthur, is the latest from Paul Verhoeven, the incorrigible Dutch vulgarian who oppressed dozens of arthouse regulars with "Turkish Delight" and "Keetje Tippel." While the results are typically lurid and alienating, "Soldier of Orange" may have been Verhoeven's notion of stepping up in class. It's a higher step than he can negotiate.
The scenario suggest a superflous Dutch addendum to "A Bridge Too Far."
"Soldier of Orange" chronicles the wartime experiences of a real-life Dutch patriot, here called Erik Lanshof, who abandons undergraduate revels to join the Resistance during the German occupation. He is spirited to London, assigned as a liaison to the exiled Queen Wilhelmina, whisked back to Holland for some oafish espionage missions, accepted in the RAF after faking the eye test, discovered raining bombs away over Germany and then reassigned to the queen for her postwar homecoming.
As depicted by Verhoeven, these exploits seem at once interminable and conspicuously undistinguished. If Lanshof had a critical role to play in the liberation of Holland, it would be difficult to guess what it was from the evidence available in "Soldier of Orange." In fact, a stronger case could be made for Lanshof as a dangerous dunce. Exhibit A: He almost assassinates the chief of Dutch intelligence in London after swallowing a big Gestapo fib alleging that his countryman is a Nazi double agent.
Verhoeven's characters exhibit persistent signs of stupidity, but the source seems more atmospheric than behavioral. There's an interlude about a country simpleton playing a practical joke on some soldiers. In anyone else's rotten movie it might be classified as excruciating comic relief. Here it merely harmonizes with all the other demented episodes: Village idiots abound.
Verhoeven's performers frequently resemble lewd, cartoonish caricatures. The granite-jawed or pork-cheeked actors are typically complemented by pug-faced actresses with pouty, protruding lips, impersonating girls with one-track minds. As the hero, Rutger Hauer suggests a weird, unstable cross of Dick Tracy and Bowie Kuhn, and the randy pair he divides erotic interludes with -- the Dutch Belinda Meuldijk and the English Susan Penhaligon -- look like Chester Gould dream molls.
A Finnish stinker called "The Earth Is Our Sinful Song" had me convinced (no doubt unjustly) that Lapps were the least comely folk ever portrayed on the screen. If Verhoeven keeps at it, the Dutch may eclipse the Lapps.
The mad whirl of leering mugs and swinish high jinks in Verhoeven's picture makes it difficult to get a sure fix on the Nazi degenerates. For example, the story opens at a university hazing ceremony where the hero and other initiates, their heads shaved for the occasion, are being raucously humiliated. The supercilious frat president, Gus, empties a soup tureen on the hero's head and then bloodies his pate by breaking the tureen over it.
This braining turns out to be all in good fun. Far from emerging as a latent Nazi, Gus becomes fast friends with Erik, and they share many an unsuccessful and inconclusive adventure during the war. Still, I can't help thinking of Gus as the enemy, somehow. Maybe Verhoeven's troubles all date back to a brain-scrambling conk on the skull in the dim, dark past.