It’s been a while since I’ve seen Paul Verhoeven’s spoof propaganda war movie, but it’s held up exceptionally well. How anyone watching this camp little gem didn’t get that it was supposed to be a satire is beyond me – it’s one involuntary Nazi salute away from Dr Strangelove.
Loosely adapted from the Commie-bustin’ 50s novel by Robert A Heinlein, Verhoeven and writer Edward Neumeier take their source material and play it for laughs, ladling on the gore and gratuitous nudity as they go. Square-jawed Casper Van Dien signs up to the intergalactic army to impress Denise Richards, much to the delight of the one-armed, legless recruiting officer (“the army made me the man I am today!”), and is relentlessly pursued by lovestruck Dina Meyer. Neil Patrick Harris, as their best friend, typically steals every scene he’s in.
That’s about all you need to know, story-wise: it’s Top Gun in space, near enough, with the addition of some seriously pissed off giant bugs that you are invited to sympathise with at every opportunity. I can see why the film polarised audiences on release, though: the trailer does nothing to convey its tongue-in-cheek tone, which must have left some viewers bewildered.
Verhoeven claimed to be “playing with fascism or fascist imagery to point out certain aspects of American society… of course, the movie is about ‘Let’s all go to war and let’s all die.'” It’s Fallout humour, all perfect smiles and bigger guns – and, yes – of course they have a nuclear hand-cannon. Cheesy infomercials and grinning newscasts punctuate the action
with certain scenes lifted from Nazi propaganda flick Triumph of the Will. It’s not dark humour, though, in spite of those references – it’s much too silly for that.
I’m sticking with Dr Strangelove for an anchor point: it’s that kind of ridiculous, but much, much prettier.