Rating: The Good – 83.7 Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Satire Duration: 102 mins Director: Paul Verhoeven Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox
You have to admire directors who have a clear unmistakable and atypical style. It indicates a level of control and finesse that separate themselves from the mainstream line-towers who movie execs tend to favour. Carpenter, Cronenberg, Mann, DePalma, Kubrick are some such directors and so is Paul Verhoeven – even if his hallmarks are slightly more overt than the aforementioned. His signature trilogy comprise Starship Troopers, Total Recall, and RoboCop. Each are as much fun as you can have with a sci-fi and each have their unique strengths. Two of them have silly names but they are Verhoeven’s masterpieces. In fact, Robocop and Starship Troopers are similar in other ways as both play with the social mores of the their time through a mixture of clever story-lines and delicious television newsflashes which act as intermissions to the drama.
RoboCop is exactly what it says on the tin (no pun intended). Detroit police department of the near future gets contracted out to a nefarious company who institute a new security programme by turning a cop killed in the line of duty into a heavily armed and virtually unstoppable cyborg. Peter Weller is a revelation as the titular hero as he transforms from everyman cop to robot. Everything from his walk to the way he speaks seems authentically robotic (startlingly so in fact) and it’s hard to imagine even Schwarzenegger (originally meant for the job) matching his performance (The Terminator required a more subtle portrayal due to the fact that those cyborgs were supposed to look human). Nancy Allen does well as his gutsy partner and Ronny Cox is of course on hand to spit venom at all and sundry. However, even he is outshined in that department by Kurtwood Smith as the truly loathsome Clarence Boddicker.
Basil Poledouris’ score is suitably exhilarating and Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner’s script is daring, witty, sharp, and perfectly structured. Some of the special effects involving the ED 209 are a bit clunky but Rob Bottin’s robosuit is a joy to look at. The star of the show however is undoubtedly Verhoeven as RoboCop is a tight, meticulously crafted, and hugely satisfying satirical sci-fi. Everything from the way RoboCop is finally introduced to the switching from regular perspective to RoboCop’s perspective is done to drive the dramatic tension of the film and it all works a treat. Don’t dismiss because of the title. Watch it and even that will make sense. “I’ll buy that for a dollar.”
Rating: The Good – 75.9 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 113 mins Director: Paul Verhoeven Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside
Paul Verhoeven’s worthy adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s futuristic short story was a landmark in special effects on its release but like all great sci-fi, it’s the intelligent story and cracking characters that make it so good. Arnold Schwarzenegger headlines as Douglas Quaid, a man who recurrently dreams of life on Mars only to discover that he’s been there before and has had his memories of it and that previous life erased. When that discovery makes him a target for nasty men with guns and attitude, Doug hightails it to Mars to unravel the mystery. Along with his role of Dutch in Predator, Quaid was the role that showed Arnie was more than just brawn on screen. There’s much humour in his performance and not only is it in sync with the general vibe of the film, it’s well timed and infused with more than a touch of personality – something that couldn’t always have been said about his comedy attempts. Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, and best of all Michael Ironside play the particularly dastardly bad guys and between them and Schwarzenegger the classic one-liners come thick and fast. Verhoeven’s mark is all over Total Recall which is no bad thing as his colourful and mischievous style nicely complements the pulp background from which the story hails.
Rating: The Good – 73.5 Genre: Science Fiction, Action Duration: 129 mins Director: Paul Verhoeven Stars: Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer
Paul Verhoeven’s surprise hit is worth every bit of the hype that surrounded it on and since its release. It tells the comic-book story of an Earth of the future that is at war with giant alien bugs which inhabit far reaching planets human kind has attempted to settle on. Starship Troopers is full of hugely impressive ground and space battles and the special effects are startlingly good even to this day. The cast does uniformly well in engendering the story with a carefree sense of fun and Basil Poledouris’ score is suitably rousing to the occasion. Verhoeven and writer Edward Neumeier clearly decided to make a point with this one and as the film progresses the volume is slowly turned up on a delicious commentary regarding colonialism and propaganda. The film is all the richer for it as it not only gives the proceedings much greater weight but makes the whole damn thing seriously funny to boot.
Rating: The Good – 66.3 Genre: Thriller Duration: 127 mins Director: Paul Verhoeven Stars: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza
Given its notoriety for what at the time was a relatively high level of sexual explicitness (and probably still is), Basic Instinct was quickly labeled as “controversy for controversy’s sake” and few saw the film as being anything more than gratuitous and shallow. However, when one takes into account Paul Verhoeven’s previous films such as Soldaat van Oranje, RoboCop, and Total Recall, one might be tempted to give him and his Basic Instinct project the benefit of the doubt.
Basic Instinct is an admirable and often entertaining attempt to play on the rules and traditions of the thriller genre which ultimately fails to reach the heights it aspired to. Michael Douglas stars as a troubled homicide detective investigating Sharon Stone’s deviously clever writer when her boyfriend is murdered in a manner she described in her previous novel. The early parts to this movie are quite engaging and a tantalising game of cat and mouse between Stone and Douglas offers many possibilities. The first one and a half acts are quite efficiently driven by a sexually and psychologically charged suspense even if the efforts to generate that suspense were overt and indelicate. There’s a distinctive visual style to the film as Verhoeven orchestrates his lighting, framing, and production design to successfully produce a soft and enticing noiresque vibe. The detail of the plot and the many intertwined subplots complement that vibe and gives the director and his much maligned writer Joe Eszterhas plenty of opportunity to expose and jauntily probe the rules by which studios market their films and the related rules by which audiences form expectations.
Unfortunately, the film struggles to get through the latter stages of its second act and as it does so, all that moderately sophisticated jibing gets dialled up to increasingly ridiculous and blunted levels. The final act is too drawn out and with it, the relevance of Verhoeven’s statement gets lost. The supporting cast (George Dzundza in the form of Douglas’ partner and Jeanne Tripplehorn as his on-again/off-again love interest and psychiatrist) don’t help this either through a combination of poor writing and confused acting. On the plus side, Douglas is strong throughout and coming as it did in close proximity to films like Fatal Attraction, Falling Down, and Disclosure, the sense of edginess which defined his career at that time can still be perceived in this performance. Stone for her part is in devilish form and despite all the controversy it caused, it’s one of her better performances. She really does command the screen when she’s on it independent of the help which Verhoeven was giving her. Overall, Basic Instinct is an interesting little thriller that tries to rise above its genre in a playful style. That it fails to do so because of a lack of delicacy and focus certainly reduces its impact but doesn’t fully negate its strengths.