Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Paul Verhoeven's bizarre TRICKED proves an enjoyable -- if misfired -- cinema oddity

Even though his resume is rather up-and-down -- The Fourth Man to Showgirls, Spetters to the original Robocop, Basic Instinct to Black Book -- anything Dutch director Paul Verhoeven hands us is worth at least a look, if not an occasional repeat viewing. So it is with his latest film (and one of his oddest) to reach our shores, the 2012 TRICKED, which is advertised to be (though I rather doubt it) "the first user-generated film." This supposedly means that a bunch of film fans had their say in writing the screenplay, along with maybe a half dozen more-or-less professional writers, all of whom "developed" the movie as the filming process went along.

Verhoeven, shown at left, has long been noted for his diversity -- he doesn't like to do the same thing twice. So tackling this "user-generated" thing probably had some appeal to the guy. Yet it is difficult to believe that a filmmaker this accomplished would not have seen some of the insurmountable problems coming a mile away. The biggest of these is the fact that using so many "screenwriters" (I think I heard the number 70 mentioned) all working independently and handing in their own "scenarios" that took off from an original four-page set-up could not help but result in a movie that has little continuity and certainly no momentum or satisfying finale. Eventually this multi-writer idea had to be scrapped, with the final film using the input from only a few of the scribes. (So much for this truly being a user-generated film.)

We learn all of the above and more from the first third of the movie, just over a half-hour, which is a kind of documentary about the creation of Tricked. Then we see the resulting film (stills from which are shown above and below). While that documentary is not uninteresting, it is clear to any intelligent viewer, almost from the beginning, that this was a terrible, a genuinely stupid idea. All of which makes that first half-hour rather a slough, even though there is an occasional bright moment seen or smart thought expressed.

When we get to the film itself, the Verhoeven we know and love takes over, and things get juicy and spicy and melodramatic and generally lots of fun. The plot is full of lust and betrayal, heavy-duty emotions, family problems and business deals. The performances -- all from pros, young and old -- are just fine, as is always the case in Verhoeven's films, and the technical aspects (editing, sound, cinematography, and all the rest) are great, as well. But the finished movie, coming in at just under one hour, seems like something that would work better on television. Its highly melodramatic plot (it must be, under this kind of time constraint) involves so much "incident" that it often seems to approach a level of "camp."

Verhoeven has always been a director who fills his films with so many happenings, including incident and coincidence, that you're zipping along at a super-fast pace. When this works well, as in Black Book, and a number of his other films, the entertainment quotient is very high. And when the film's running time also allows for some character deepening and theme development, the result can be quite fine. Here, though, it all seems rushed and TV-level (old-fashioned television, like a Twilight Zone episode but without the supernatural or fantasy elements).

And yet, such an old pro is the filmmaker that by the end of Tricked, I found myself hurling right along with all this nonsense, which involved a rake of a husband and his mistresses, current and past; a corporate takeover; and a birthday party with a bulging surprise at its center. I suppose it was decided that releasing a mere 55-minute movie would not be a smart marketing move, so the documentary footage was added to make something full-length. How much better it might have been, TrustMovies suggests, to have made a full-length Verhoeven film instead: one in which all that juicy melodrama was given the kind of backup development it ought to have had. Post-viewing, you're likely to start imagining what all this could have been, and you'll be disappointed not to have seen it, instead.

From Kino Lorber and running a total of 89 minutes, Tricked opens in New York City this Friday, February 26. at the Cinema Village theater and simultaneously via digital streaming on Fandor.

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