Battle of the space cadets

It's the same old story. Boy meets girl. Girl meets giant spiders on the planet Klendathu. Spiders kill girl. Boy meets another girl.

Fans of Robert A. Heinlein's reputedly fascist 1959 sci-fi novel have been infuriated by director Paul VerhoevenŐs tongue-in-cheek shoot-em-up romp based loosely on the dust-jacket blurb of the Heinlein classic.

Special effects are the true stars of this movie and the Ken-and-Barbie looks of Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, and Denise Richards in the central roles present a Beverly Hills 90210 at war. Veteran actor Michael (Scanners) Ironside brings admirable ballast to the role of Jean Rasczak, a McCarthyite civics teacher and infantry commander.

Verhoeven films put visual impact before sense. The basic training of the Mobile Infantry is so brutal that instructor Clancy Brown routinely breaks a recruit's arm on day one. However, when deployed against alien arachnids, their battle tactics are pre-Roman and the most intelligent words of command are: "Give 'em all you got."

His Showgirls (1995) claimed to address issues of the sex industry but undermined itself by playing up to the same titilation values as its intended subject. Starship Troopers glances at the future of women in the military but despite laddish dialogue the mixed shower scene is soft porn for teens.

If you enjoyed Verhoeven's satirical commercial breaks in Robocop (1987) you can grin at the pastiche newsreel items that punctuate the action with a wry treatment of the authoritarian global state that denies the vote to anyone who has not served in the forces. "Everyone is doing their part. Are you?"

© Michael Burgess 1998