Review: Starship Troopers

starship_troopers_cov.jpgYear: 1997
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Michael Ironside, Neil Patrick Harris
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 65

Plot
Humans battle bugs in space.

Quick Review
Starship Troopers is a tricky film to get a handle on. On one hand, it has dazzling special effects, gritty combat, and thrilling action scenes. On the other hand, it has some atrocious acting from Denise Richards, a tortuous start, and some premise bending plot contrivances. Your opinion of this movie will depend on which aspect of the film you focus on. For me, the back half of the film was a visual treat that in many ways overcomes the slow first half and the film’s other negatives.

Full Review
Normally, I’d start a review with some sort of introduction, but I can’t wait to get this out: How on Earth does anyone cast Denise Richards as an intelligent woman, and how on Earth does she get major roles in films? Sure, she’s plenty attractive, but let’s face it: she can’t act! In Starship Troopers, she slaughters her role as the supposedly intelligent space pilot Carmen Ibanez. I can’t find words to describe how bad she is, but I can tell you that she makes Cindy Crawford in starship-troopers_2.jpgFair Game and Eva Mendes in Ghost Rider look positively brilliant. This wouldn’t be so bad if they limited her role, or dressed her in skimpy clothing so we’d have something to look at while she pretends to act, but in Starship Troopers she’s all over the film, and she displays only scant sensuality. Such a waste of her beauty, and such a shame to drag down this film with her awful acting.

Elsewhere, the acting in Starship Troopers is spotty but many levels above that of Richards. Prompted by a hackneyed script that pulls the film to the edge of cult status, the acting definitely gets cheesy at times. Nevertheless, Casper Van Dien, in the lead role as Johnny Rico, is fair enough. He gets some respectable support from Michael Ironside (as Rico’s Lieutenant), and some downright solid support from sultry Dina Meyer (a fellow mobile infantry soldier). Neil Patrick Harris and Jake Busey stumble through their supporting roles, but are acceptable when positioned with Denise Richards.

starship_troopers_1.jpgIn addition to the mood-killing Richards, there are other problems with Starship Troopers. Interspersed in the film are news clips that add a narrative element on the war against the bugs. Strangely, these are more parodies than they are serious additions to the film. As such, they don’t fit in the movie at all. The humor in them is forced, the purpose they serve unknown, and their overall effect on the movie is to dull the edge from the gritty combat and excellent action. I just can’t figure out why they added this element to the film. The film gains nothing from these scenes.

Also, Starship Troopers has pacing problems. The first 50 minutes of the film drags interminably as it sets up the background story to the main characters. We even get a hilariously stupid future football game to enjoy. While I appreciate the attempt to establish some complexity to the relationships in the movie, most of this background plays an insignificant part in the film. As a result, the movie for the first 50 minutes feels like it’s treading water.
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Even when the film does get going, it has some obvious problems with its premise and story. Most noticeably, all of the characters keep meeting by chance. This is supposed to be a huge war in a huge galaxy, with millions of participants, yet somehow all of the main characters keep bumping into each other as if there are only a hundred people in the universe. It’s just a bit hard to swallow. There are other goofy spots as well. At one point, Carmen Ibanez gets skewered by a bug (I cheered!), but only minutes later is walking around and smiling as if she got bit by no more than a mosquito (I got depressed). Also, for a future combat force, the Mobile Infantry seems woefully supported. In the Starship Troopers book, combatants have armor suits and high-tech weaponry. In the movie, there is a distinct balance problem with the weapons and armor. There is little to fill the gap between automatic weapons and rare nuclear rocket launchers. I understand that it makes for great action if troops shot bugs from close quarters, but the movie would have been much better if they had included more believable armaments. Lastly, it’s worth noting that the movie’s ending feels incomplete, as a final resolution is left on the table.
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Having said all this, Starship Troopers does redeem itself in many ways due to its phenomenal special effects and riveting action sequences. Once you get through the slow first half of the movie, the second half of the movie is a visual treat for action fans. For a 1997 movie, the visual effects are stunning, and hold up very well over time. Bugs are vicious, combat is gory, and the pacing over the last hour is solid. This is not a movie for those with a queasy stomach, though. Bugs dismember bodies, blood splatters around, and people die in gruesome fashion. Starship Troopers was released before R ratings were avoided, and it proudly wears its R rating. The scenes in space are excellent as well. Spaceships are detailed, explode with great fanfare, and move believably. One has to wonder, though, why all the ships would bunch so close together when they get attacked, but it does make for a grand spectacle.

starship_troopers_2.jpgAs for the Babes and Hunks, Starship Troopers is both good and bad. Denise Richards was clearly added for the eye candy element, but the movie does little to work with her beauty. Dina Meyer, on the other hand, is quite hot in this movie, and the film’s R rating shows you more of her than you would expect in a more modern film. From a Hunk perspective, Casper Van Dien is strikingly handsome, but there isn’t much else notable.

All in all, Starship Troopers is a tricky film to get a handle on. On one hand, it has dazzling special effects, gritty combat, and thrilling action scenes. On the other hand, it has some atrocious acting from Denise Richards, a tortuous start, and some premise bending plot contrivances. Your opinion of this movie will depend on which aspect of the film you focus on. For me, the back half of the film was a visual treat that in many ways overcomes the slow first half and the film’s other negatives.

Interesting Fact

According to IMDB, some of the news scenes of the destruction of Buenos Aires are taken from footage from the Oakland hill fires of 1991.

Score
Pace: 58
Plot: 32
Action: 86
Consistent Premise: 48
Script/Quotes: 41
Characters: 36
Acting: 38
Villain: 89
Body Count: 92
Time to First Dead Body: 1 minute, 46 seconds
Babes: 73
Hunks: 76
Explosions: 88
Special Effects: 91
Stunts: 52
Ending: 46

Overall: 65

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