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by Peter Sobczynski

"Not Quite A Dutch Treat"
2 stars

For fans of director/provocateur Paul Verhoeven. the last decade or so has been a period of frustration. After achieving vast commercial and occasional critical success, first in his native Holland with films like “Turkish Delight,” “Soldier of Orange” and “The 4th Man,” and then in America with such blockbusters as “Robocop,” “Total Recall” and “Basic Instinct,” his blend of over-the-top sex and violence and sardonic humor began to turn off audiences and such amazing films as “Showgirls” (a film that I dearly love in a completely unironic way) and “Starship Troopers” (one of the most misunderstood films of the Nineties—a hilarious anti-war satire that was misread by many as being little more than fascist-minded nonsense) became major flops. After “Hollow Man,” an invisible man film that was never quite as perverse or disturbing as it might have been had Verhoeven been in better commercial standing, he virtually vanished from the scene for several years. There were rumors of projects that never came to fruition and a health scare but it would be six years before he would return to his native country and offer up “Black Book,” a sexy and startling World War II drama that earned him some of the best reviews of his career and made an international sex symbol out of the relatively unknown Carice van Houten. After that, nothing except for another bunch of projects that were announced with some fanfare but which never quite made it before the cameras—over the next ten years, there were more sloppy remakes of his old films (“Total Recall” and “Robocop”) than there were new works from him.

At long last, Verhoeven has finally returned to American theaters with “Tricked” but even Verhoeven’s most passionate defenders (and I would like to include myself among them) will have trouble mustering much enthusiasm for what is essentially a gimmick film in which the gimmick never quite works. A couple of years ago, Verhoeven announced that he was going to be spearheading a grand experiment in collective filmmaking in which he posted four pages of a screenplay by writer Kim van Kooten online and asked people to continue writing the screenplay using their own ideas and he would make the film based off of those solicitations and with amateur actors—essentially creating the world’s most elaborate Choose Your Own Adventure saga. Alas, the thousands of scripts that he received failed to include one scenario that he liked in its entirety and he wound up compiling bits and pieces from several of them into a film that he did end up casting mostly with professionals. Since the resulting film was only about 50 minutes long, it is preceded by its own making-of documentary in which Verhoeven is seen explaining the concept at great length at the beginning and explaining why the concept didn’t work as he had planned at the end.

The story revolves around Remco (Peter Blok), a wildly successful architect who, as the film starts, is going to be celebrating his 50th birthday that night at a party thrown by his dutiful wife, Ineke (Ricky Koole) and attended by family, friends and business colleagues. it doesn’t take long to figure out that Remco is a serial philanderer and while Ineke is forgiving of this to a certain point, even she has her limits. Their daughter, Lieke (Carolien Spoor) is not so forgiving of her father’s affairs and bombs through the party getting drunk and high with her best friend, Merel (Gaite Jansen), not realizing that Merel is her father’s latest conquest. Merel, by the way, is also the unrequited crush object of Remo’s son, Tobias (Robert de Hoog), who drifts through the party taking vaguely disturbing photos of the guests. Further complications arrive in the form of Nadja (Sallie Harmsen), another former mistress of Remco’s who has returned from spending the last six months on business in Japan and is now eight months pregnant to boot. Making sure that his professional life is as topsy-turvy as his personal, Remco’s unscrupulous business partner, Wim (Jochum ten Haaf), decides to use his knowledge that Remco is the father of Nadja’s child to force him to sell their architecture firm to some Chinese high rollers. While Remco desperately tries to keep his business and family afloat against all odds, others begin digging around the surprise revelations and discover that not everything is what it is cracked up to be.

As Verhoeven admits in the documentary, this particular exercise in narrative composition was probably doomed to disaster right from the start. While the gimmick may sound interesting in theory, the problem is that all the contributors were so determined to make their own distinctive marks that they deliberately decided to ignore the style and tone set by the original writer in the first few page in order to jam in their own ideas. In other words, the result was a screenplay that was put together by committee with any number of voices throwing in the $.02 worth that never demonstrates the kind of unique voice and vision that make the best screenplays so memorable. In other words, the exact kind of screenplay formulation that helped to drive Verhoeven away from Hollywood in the first place. Since it contains none of the subtextual elements that Verhoeven has used in the past to slip in his most subversive idea, no opportunities for graphic sex or violence for him to thumb his nose at contemporary prudery (there is one moment along these lines that should have worked but it is telegraphed so early that it just doesn’t come off) and no examples of his dark and scathing wit to speak of, the whole thing has the flat and antiseptic feel of a middling episode of a soap opera that has perhaps gone on for a season or two too long. Given the circumstances, his direction and the performances from the actors are both adequate but even though the film proper is less than an hour long, few people will be clamoring for more after it hits its painfully “ironic” finale.

For fans of Paul Verhoeven, “Tricked” might be of slight interest, if only for the opening documentary sequence that offers them a chance to see the master at work, even if the work itself is hardly masterful. (That said, it does inadvertently reveal at least one big plot point but I assure you that few will care.) They may also be a little more forgiving of it because a.) it is his first film in years and they may be grateful for anything from him after a decade and b.) he already has another film due later this year—a thriller starring Isabelle Huppert—that means that they won’t have to wait too much longer for what is presumably closer to a true Verhoeven vehicle. For everyone else, it will come across as little more than a failed experiment in cinematic form that one might expect from some ambitious newcomers and not from someone of Verhoeven’s stature.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25920&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/26/16 11:27:34
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Denver Film Festival For more in the 2013 Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 European Union Film Festival For more in the 2014 European Union Film Festival series, click here.

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  26-Feb-2016 (NR)



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