Starship Troopers 3: Marauder

Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), hero of the battle on Planet P and now a Colonel in charge of his own unit of Troopers, is back to battle the arachnids. After a disagreement with an old friend, the incredibly named General Dix Hauser (Boris Kodjoe), he is arrested as a traitor and sentenced to death, but Hauser quickly changes plans and saves Rico from the gallows. It seems that a Federation Starship has crash-landed on the distant alien planet OM-1, stranding beloved leader and crooner Sky Marshall Anoke (Stephen Hogan) and several others, including pilot Lola Bech (Jolene Blalock), who was once involved with Rico and is now engaged to Hauser. With the government conspiring to let the Sky Marshall die, it's up to Rico to lead a team of Troopers on a daring rescue mission. There seems to be an industry growing up around lame sequels to films directed by Paul Verhoeven. Basic Instinct, RoboCop and Hollow Man have each been sequelized and now Starship Troopers get its third installment. What's next? Showgirls 2 and Turkish Delight Again? As you may have guessed, these sequels are produced on a much lower budget than their predecessors which means that size and spectacle have to be sacrificed in favor of story and character. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case since these films have to be written and shot quickly and often with less than stellar performers. Wait. What stellar performers starred in the original Starship Troopers? Denise Richards? Patrick Muldoon? Casper Van Dien? How did Verhoeven make a good film with a cast like that?

The original Troopers, based on the novel by Robert Heinlein, was a kind of elaborate Verhoeven joke on the American audience. After years of producing proto-fascist action movies under the guise of fun comic book thrills, Hollywood somehow financed Verhoeven's parody of a real fascist propaganda film, a kind of futuristic Leni Riefenstahl epic. Maybe they just didn't get it and were expecting another jingoistic action flick, which is what they got anyway since Verhoeven's great concept would allow the film to exist as both commercial blockbuster and art house satire at the same time. His version of Starship Troopers would encourage the audience to cheer at such things as genocide, public executions, torture, and gung-ho warfare, hopefully to realize just what that they were being asked to cheer FOR was not exactly heroic or honorable. It was a great Brian De Palma type of metafiction gag that forced the viewer to confront the power of the media to propagandize. In this conception, the casting of young model like actors was part of the concept, to make the horrific actions the work of the "beautiful people", empty and vacuous.

Ed Neumeier (RoboCop) wrote the screenplay for that film and performs the same duties for Starship Troopers 3: Marauder as well as making his directorial debut. He does his best against the crippling budget limitations, staging his action in cramped "trench" sets that hide the scope of the action from our view and from bouncing the production's checkbook. To compensate, he tries to focus his attention on the satire and makes strong use of the original's television commercial interruptions to drive his points home. Ian Fleming himself would've been proud of the incredible name given to the General in this film, "General Dix Hauser" - take that "Pussy Galore". Actually the name seems like a double joke to me, if you remember that Neil Patrick Harris was a major character in the first film and that he's famous for playing a certain "Doogie Howser, MD"-though "Doogie" can't quite measure up to "Dix".

Casper Van Dien has to be given the Keanu Reeves Award for Excellence this year. Reeves is an actor who I think went from abysmal to solid in a brief decade. He's certainly not going to give Johnny Depp any sleepless nights, but he's at least a believable leading man now. Van Dien was wonderfully awful in the original Troopers , but this time he was actually - I can't believe I'm saying it - "good." Perhaps a little age has given him a more thoughtful look, but the actor was quite believable and even charismatic in the role.

While a marked improvement over the utter lameness of Troopers 2, Marauder tries too hard to telegraph its satirical tone and the special effects look more like the kind of cheap animations found in a Discovery Channel program. There's way too much going on in the film including an attack on religious dogma ("Across the federation, experts agree that: A: God exists, B: He's on our side, and C: He wants us to win.") and a few "zingers" that are a little too timely. Still, there's something charming about the whole thing, like an overproduced high School play by a precocious student stretched way beyond it's means. Advice: Best watched on the Sci-Fi Channel after midnight. For a direct to DVD premiere, Starship Troopers 3: Marauder has a ton of extras. You get two behind the scenes documentaries, "Evolution: The Bugs of Starship Troopers 3" and "Enlist!" The first covers the special effects team led by Robert Skotek in their steep challenges to create a big budget monster flick on a dime. It's hard to fault them for their hard work, but the effects are terrible and not in the charming way Ray Harryhausen stop motion can appear. The creatures lack any photorealistic detail and come off as animated cartoon images with no sense of depth or tactility at all. I'm sure a truckload of money would've solved most of the problems but perhaps a different approach such as setting the story amid intense fog or rain to make the arachnids more shadowy or creating more detail in creatures appearing in the foreground would've made a difference. In any case, it's a decent behind the scene featurette.

The second featurette, "Enlist!" focuses on the troopers themselves, the actors who play them, and the uniforms, training, and weaponry they employ. It's pretty boring but at least allows a good look at the studio shooting conditions involving the trenches. It's interesting to see that they're constructed just like the old fashioned movie studio city streets, like a "T" with two long sides leading to a cross "street" to block our view from anything further. Writer-Director Ed Neumeier appears and says that he told the cast that even though he wrote the screenplay, the characters now belong to them. A good directorial trick to get the cast involved as well as a clear statement that there will be no time on this shoot to discuss motivations.

There are two commentaries on the disc, one with Neumeier, producer David Lancaster and effects supervisor Robert Skotak and the other featuring the director again with cast members Casper Van Dien and Jolene Blalock. The first one is a bit dry with all three men sounding exhausted from the experience. The most interesting tidbit is that the entire film was shot not in LA, London, or Vancouver but rather in South Africa.

The second commentary is a cast commentary and as usual this one is more fun. It's relaxed and the director and his stars seem to genuinely like each other and have had a good time working on the film together. Nothing special but mildly entertaining.

Finally, there are trailers for other Sony titles and perhaps the best feature, the music video for Sky Marshall Anoke's hit song, "It's a Good Day to Die". Snatches of this are heard in the film but the song should really be heard in it's entirety. It's a faux-propaganda ballad about the honor of dying for your country that is sung and scored much like a Budweiser anthem from the late '80s. "Here's to you!"