1997 has been a good year for sci-fi fans. First came the funny and superlative "Fifth Element" and now comes the rock-em, sock-em action/adventure of "Starship Troopers". Director Paul Verhoeven has taken the off-the-wall humor from his "RoboCop", the dazzling effects from his "Total Recall", and the gratuitous nudity from his "Basic Instinct" and created the ultimate escapist movie. I slipped that last one in because it irks me no end that they sullied this great entertainment with unnecessary T&A. Given the film’s subject matter, violence and even profanity were to be expected, but the nudity we could have done without.
Set in an unspecified future era, the people of Earth fall into one of two categories: civilians or citizens. Citizens, who earn that distinction because of federal service in the military, are the only ones allowed to vote. But the price of citizenship is high because the planet is at war with the insect-like inhabitants of a distant star system. These creatures can’t be reasoned with and won’t stop placing asteroids on a collision course with our world. Our only hope for survival is to venture to their home worlds bring about their extinction.
The story centers on a close-knit group of friends that have just graduated from high school and who wish to embark on federal service. While his girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) becomes a starship pilot and his friend Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) joins military intelligence, lovelorn Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is relegated to the much more dangerous mobile infantry. It turns out that the "arachnids", as they are often called, have been greatly underestimated as enemies. Their defensive tactics are brutal and effective and cause Earth’s protectors to revamp their strategies. As the was rages on, Rico’s heroism places him near the top of the fighting elite, while Ibanez’s skills play a vital role in the skirmishes that are to come.
Based on the Robert A. Heinlein classic of the same name, "Starship Troopers" is the movie that last year’s "Independence Day" should have been. Where that lesser film tried vainly to be hip, Verhoeven’s flick revels in its simplistic attitudes and energetic pacing. The director plays up the film’s jingoism, to the point that it would make a great recruitment device for the fictional military depicted. Wisely cast with mostly unknowns, the film doesn’t bring with it the inflated expectations and movie star baggage which dogged "ID4". Although it doesn’t tackle big issues and is the cinematic equivalent of a comic book, "Starship Troopers" is fun, fun, fun. Why ask for anything more?