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Movie Review: Starship Troopers -- Sex, violence, and aliens -- What more do you need to know?

By Mark Huang
Staff Reporter

Some movies have their directors written all over them - see something that could be a Muppet? It's got to be Lucas. Post-apocalyptic melodrama begging to be a comedy? Costner, of course. Breasts, guns, blood, aliens, and robots? Paul Verhoeven's your man, whether he's directing Basic Instinct, Robocop, or, now, Starship Troopers.

Based loosely (very loosely) on the novel by Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers follows the path of a young man as he signs up for the army, screws up his life, and blows up the universe. Accompanied by violent women, big guns, and Doogie Howser, our hero kicks serious alien ass: a Verhoeven classic.

Set in a typical Heinlein future, Starship Troopers traces the lives of three high school friends who enter the Armed Forces, now dedicated to ensuring human supremacy over the galaxy. A few small obstacles - namely, asteroid-hurtling giant bugs - are all that stand in the way between them and a state of Terran hegemony. The future isn't dark, however; it's a cheery "fascistic utopia," as Verhoeven likes to term it, a cynically funny blend of the worlds of 1984 and Demolition Man.

Johnny Rico, played by Casper Van Dien, is a pretty-boy high school graduate whose parents want him to go to Harvard. His heart, on the other hand, tells him to follow his girlfriend into the army. He can't enter flight school like his girlfriend because of his abysmal math scores, so his choices are either Harvard, the beach, or the mobile infantry. He chooses the third, and the first half of the film follows his rise through and tragic fall out of boot camp. The sudden devastation of Earth by the forces of Bug reignites his passions, however. Armed with machine guns, throwing knives, and no sense of tactical strategy whatsoever, he and his platoon drop into combat on remote planets like Wyo-ming and Nev-ada to fight for the species. From then on, it's a blood-soaked, chitin-cracking killfest until the spectacular Final Battle.

This formula is about as old as my grandmother - but then again, my grandmother never toted a combination M-16/Winchester, nor was she ever ripped in two by a giant cockroach, nor did she ever handle portable nuclear weapons with the utmost confidence. This movie, which has been teasing the young male demographic for six months, won't disappoint those who feel that annual sense of emptiness after the summer blockbusters end. It's excessive: the crew of Starship Troopers set an all-time record for most ammunition used during a motion picture production. It's violent: at least every major appendage of the human body is ripped or popped off at some point in the film. It's spectacular: ILM, Imageworks, Boss, and VCE were all hired to produce a total of 550 special effects, compared to The Lost World's 170.

This movie is Verhoeven at his finest. He doesn't waste a single frame of his allocation of nudity shots and gut spills. Like most fantastic action movies, Starship Troopers is best appreciated for its action and effects, rather than for any semblance of realism or profundity of themes. A couple of people behind me refused to laugh at the adolescent humor or clap when a bug did an especially good job on a platoon of human meat. These are the kinds of people who search for meaning in Oliver Stone movies, or enjoy anything with Bette Midler in it. Me, I like well-designed aliens the size of bulldozers that eat brains and eject plasma. You'll find a few of these, a lot of laughs, and more than a few occasions to worship ILM in this fall's best action movie so far.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Starring Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Jake Busey, and Neil Patrick Harris