“Oh boy,” I distinctly remember telling a fellow film freak back in the mid-’80s, “This should be something else!” The occasion was the announcement that Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven was going to be directing a science-fiction film called Robocop.
I was right for once. Its blend of technical wizardry, intelligence and graphic realistic violence set Robocop apart from others of its kind. And Verhoeven was just getting started over here in the U.S.
I was fortunate enough to have already seen the six prior films he’d made in the Netherlands, most of which were startling enough, with the same qualities he’d brought to Robocop, plus the addition of far more explicit sex than a typical R-rated American film. From his first Dutch film, Diary of a Hooker 1971 (renamed Business Is Business for American release), to ’83’s hallucinatory The 4th Man, Verhoeven always pushed the envelope.
Besides being unnerving, the films were also fresh, sometimes funny, always exciting. They held an enormous range of subject matter and setting — from period pieces about prostitution (Hooker and Katie Tippel to the WWII occupation/partisan drama Soldier of Orange to the alienated youth scene in contemporary Netherlands (Spetters). Verhoeven asserted himself as one of the most exciting talents in contemporary European film.
His first film in English, Flesh + Blood (1985) was a Spanish/Dutch collaboration that’s still one of the most unsettling, violent films about the Middle Ages you’ll ever see, highlighting another of Verhoeven’s recurring themes — religion.
Then came three Hollywood homeruns — Robocop,Total Recall and Basic Instinct — before the disastrous Showgirls (’95), possibly the worst major film ever made by a major director. Though he rebounded with Starship Troopers (’97), the disappointing Hollow Man (2000) three years on seemed to end Verhoeven’s popularity and, even more important, his Tinseltown marketability.
Before that, the filmmaker (now nicknamed the Mad Dutchman) had made a film every two or three years at the most. It wasn’t until 2006, though, that he showed he still had the Right Stuff with the WWII spy drama Black Book, filmed in his native Netherlands and about as good as any of his work.
Then another absence of six years, prompting Verhoeven fans like me to wonder if the 75-year-old former wunderkind was through. Just released on home video here, Tricked (2012) proves Verhoeven is far from done. In fact, as the title suggests, he’s up to old tricks.
With a running time of 91 minutes, the video release of Tricked is deliberately misleading; the actual “film” (roughly 50 minutes) is preceded by a 40-minute “Making of…” featurette on how the actual movie came about. Starting with four pages of Kim van Kooten’s script, the idea was to elicit succeeding submissions from the public that would then be gleaned and selected for “plot” development.
The featurette shows a charming Verhoeven at work, prepping the opening scene while he discusses his career and explains his approach to storytelling and camera work. Interspersed with his comments are interviews with the cast, detailing their excitement about working with the “legend.” It might almost play like a vanity project were the concept of the new film not so innovative and Verhoeven himself so delightful.
The actual 50-minute feature is well worth the wait. Hard to define generically, the story combines sex, intrigue, drama and comedy in a complicated tale of “tricks” of all kinds. At his 50th birthday party, the philandering Remco (Peter Blok) and his wife Nadja (Sallie Harmsen) are surprised by the uninvited presence of a very pregnant Ineke (Ricky Koole). Remco’s son Tobias is surprised by Merel (Gaite Jansen) while his coke-sniffing sister Lieke (Carolien Spoor) gets blindsided just about every which way by everyone else.
There are sub-plots galore, involving business takeovers, clandestine romances, the Internet and pregnancies. And only in a Verhoeven movie would events turn on a bloody tampon in a toilet.
Marvelously acted, tightly scripted and deftly directed, Tricked might be considered a bauble in terms of length and theme, but it’s an all-Verhoeven gem. Think of it as a finger exercise for his new feature-length thriller, Elle with Isabelle Hupert, due to open here soon after rave reviews abroad.
I, for one, can’t wait.