The riffing tradition has historically been one of mocking shall-we-say modest films, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that rights must be secured for most other films, and those rights can be very expensive. Rifftrax has really mainstreamed the major-movie-riff with things like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and, as previously reviewed here: Godzilla. If you recall that one, I actually found it a bit depressing—independent of the riffing, which was quite good.
Fortunately, Starship Troopers—which Rifftrax assures us CAN NEVER BE SEEN AGAIN! due to expense of licensing—is a much more enjoyable experience, though not without some problems. The main problem being hearing the guys riff during the big, splodey set pieces, of which there are quite a few. When the volume went up in the movie, it pretty much drowned out Bill, Mike and Kevin, alas.
But the thing about Starship Troopers is that it’s not a bad watch. Like (the lower budget) Anaconda, it’s what might be called “uneven”: The film is entertaining, albeit profoundly dumb in a way that outraged fans of the original Heinlein novel. It’s hard to remember now, but Troopers was on the downslope of once-wildly-popular Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s Hollywood career, which rocketed from the modest Flesh + Blood to Robocop, Total Recall and the crazy influential Basic Instinct. He followed the last with the career-smashing Showgirls, taking out himself, screenwriter Joe Esterhaz and ingenue-turned-power-slut Elizabeth Berkley. In fact, Berkley was so tarnished by this role, you’d think subsequent escapee’s from children’s programming would be more circumspect about portraying themselves so grossly sexually but, nope, ain’t nobody learnin’ nothin’.
Anyway, the thing about Verhoeven is that he’s conflicted. Or, perhaps more accurately, subversive. I mean, this is the guy who’s latest film that I’ve seen, 2006’s Black Book, featured a love affair between a Jewish spy and a Nazi. I mean, most filmmakers take the easy way out and consider the Nazis the bad guys when it came to their occupation of foreign nations, but Verhoeven is really on the fence. Jews, Nazis, Dutch—there were bad people on all sides.
And so, Robocop is this ultra-violent superhero movie with scatching attacks on American culture, and Starship Troopers is Verhoeven reading (or hearing about) the book and saying, “Well, this is fascism, straight up. But let’s make a dumb space opera for the vulgar Americans.” And he and screenwriter Edward Neumeier (also Robocop‘s scriptwriter) thought it would be a grand old time to satirize militarism without letting anyone else in on the joke. Well, except, presumably the costume designer who, as our riffers note, had to put Neil Patrick Harris in what was basically an SS uniform by the end of the show.
Anyway, the movie isn’t unwatchably bad, and the riffs (when you can hear them) were very funny for the most part. They beat the tar out of poor Denise Richards for her acting, probably too much. They mocked Dina Meyer’s character, on the flipside, which was pretty funny. (Although Dina Meyer was better, and her character more endearing than I recalled.) Apparently Meyer, Harris and Casper van Dien were strongly encouraging Rifftrax’s efforts here (I actually remember this from Twitter) which meant a cruel barb was often followed by a mouthed “Sorry” on stage. This was actually also kind of endearing.
Overall it was a very enjoyable time, though too long for any shorts at the front, which is a shame given how fun those can be. They came up with a new twist on the old “how do we not show the nudity?” gag that they used on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which I liked. We were quite pleased.
The next movie up for the “Best of” series was The Room, which we loved but you probably couldn’t pay us to see it again.