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Friday, July 18, 2008

'Starship Troopers 3: Marauder'

Alien bugs vs. Nazi troopers


The "Starship Troopers" franchise keeps scrabbling on, less due to public acclaim than the immutable logic that any science-fiction movie worth doing once is worth doing three times. There's something about trilogies — from Asimov or Tolkien perhaps — that just makes nerds feel complete. Fortunately for them, "Starship Troopers" has come through to fill the awful void of fantasy/comic-book movies we've been facing this summer.

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder Rating: (2.5 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
MOVIES
Cokey Falkow running in "Starship Troopers 3: Marauder"

Director: Ed Neumeier
Running time: 104 minutes
Language: English
Opens July 19, 2008
[See Japan Times movie listing]

The first "Starship Troopers," based on the novel by Robert Heinlein, was directed by Paul "Basic Instinct" Verhoeven in 1997, back when Hollywood would still trust him with nine-figure budgets. A lot of those digits went down the toilet with "Starship Troopers" (and "Showgirls") though; the suits terminated Verhoeven's Hollywood career (he's back in Europe now, and making better films; see "Black Book") and downsized the series' budgets considerably. "Starship Troopers 2" was strictly "B," a "Fort Apache" movie with giant alien bugs, but not without its charms considering master animator Phil Tippett was still creating the critters.

"Starship Troopers 3: Marauder" is helmed by Ed Neumeier, who scripted the first two films and who also directs this time. His brief was to bring back the humor and satire of the first, Verhoeven-directed film, even though the tongue-in-cheek aspects were what pissed off the fanboys in the first place. That gives Neumeier an extra star from this critic, but unfortunately his idea of satire is about as clever as a hammer to the head.

Verhoeven's "ST" quite correctly sensed the nature of the gung-ho militarism Heinlein celebrated, and made a point of using unmistakably fascist aesthetics — uniforms, flags, emblems — for the "Federation" ruling Earth and its soldiers. Many misunderstood this as profascist iconography by Verhoeven; alas, irony is a treacherous path to tread.

Neumeier's film picks up largely where Verhoeven's left off. The war between mankind and the arachnids continues. Heroic grunt Johnnie Rico (Casper Van Dien) is back, an officer now, and commanding a besieged outpost on the planet Roku San. Van Dien, while certainly looking the part with his square chin and bulging pecs, is about the worst actor in the world. Arguably, that's just perfect for this film, which is a lot closer to "Grindhouse" than "Star Wars." (That is, it's knowingly lowbrow, as opposed to cluelessly clunky.)

Rico and his fellow officers are preparing for a visit from Sky Marshal Omar Anoke (Stephen Hogan). In an example of the film's idea of satire, the Federation's world has conflated political theatrics with "American Idol"; the sky marshal gives dramatic stage performances singing his hit propaganda song: "It's a good day to die/when you know the reason why." In an age where Washington's political consultants are full of people from Hollywood and advertising, this is no stretch, but it's executed in such a cheesy way, you'll be embarrassed for the filmmakers.

A further plot twist enters the picture when intelligence officer Dix Hauzer (Boris Kodjoe) shows up with the sky marshal, and it turns out he's an item with Rico's old flame, pilot Lola Beck (Jolene Blalock, whose lips rival Angelina Jolie's). Jealousy leads to Hauzer court-martialing Rico after a bug attack. When the sky marshal's spaceship crash-lands on a hostile, bug-infested planet, with Beck also among the survivors, Hauzer frees Rico to lead a team to rescue them.

After the initial opening battle, the film bogs down in the middle. The sky marshal's born-again religious ravings as the survivors trek across a desert planet get old fast, and the viewer is inclined to agree with Beck when she snarls "can the God talk." Back on Earth, Hauzer and Rico keep talking about the rescue plan and the new Marauder battle-suits (think "Gundam") but when they finally go into action it's over in a minute — quite anticlimactic.

The film makes some attempts at topicality: Federation propaganda warns "if you're against the war, you're against us," while the sky marshal claims to converse with God, which is sufficient to remind viewers that George W. Bush is still in office, but that's about it. It's a confused film, to say the least: It spends most of its running time suggesting religion is a dangerous delusion before preaching faith at the end; similarly, the Federation is portrayed as an Orwellian totalitarian nightmare, but we're supposed to root for them against the bugs.

Of course, toss back a few cold ones and you won't much care what you're supposed to think, and just get off on the swarms of evil bugs. If this is the sort of entertainment you're craving, though, the best advice would be to wait for zombie-panic movie "Day Of The Dead" later this summer. "ST3" is mildly exciting — "Day" might just give you a heart attack.


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