As with an unseasoned
sausage, the circumstances surrounding how Paul Verhoeven’s new “movie” was made are, frankly, more intriguing than the final product. Under the rubric of something known as the Entertainment Experience, Verhoeven and his cohorts initiated a Dutch reality show in which nearly four hundred audience members helped to crowdsource a film: The participants devised the exquisite-corpse-style script — edited down from seven hundred submitted sequences — after which Verhoeven et al. enlisted six separate crews (five amateur, one their own unit of pros) to shoot different chunks of the same story, all with different casts and scores.
Or something. The edited version we get here leaves most of the non-Verhoeven stuff out, spending its first 35 DVD-supplement minutes extolling the director’s daring and vaguely delineating the process. At best it scans like the filmmaker’s attempt at low-budget, cutting-edge interactivity (the contributors are referred to as “the users” — did they help the crowdfunding effort as well?). But as the auteur, Verhoeven seems conflicted — the masses’ “great ideas” get lip service, but Verhoeven lionizes Verhoeven in the third person so often there’s never any doubt as to who’s in charge.
The remaining fifty-odd minutes consist of Verhoeven’s version of the movie itself, which feels like an adequate, generic, Amsterdam-based episode of Dallas: philandering patriarch, petulant wife, pregnant mistress, scheming kids, backstabbing co-workers. The director’s famously twin-edged camp-bitterness is all but absent aside from a moment involving red wine puked upon a used tampon. As filmmaking it’s drearily anonymous — proof, if we needed it, that writing a screenplay via referendum is not a great idea. (That many TV shows are formulated this way, albeit with smaller crowds, only sharpens the point.)
We never get to see the presumably lively version the other five (amateur) crews cobbled together. Nor do we, as per the title’s suggestion, get manhandled by what’s-real-what’s-fiction hoaxing of any kind. He’s not fucking with us — for such an ostensibly radical project, Tricked is surprisingly straightforward in its snarky drama, which is not something you could say about any other Verhoeven film, from The Fourth Man to Hollow Man.
Whatever the future of cinema holds in our nascent age of hyper-control and choice-gluttony, this probably isn’t it. Verhoeven’s intentions here, beyond a desperate faddishness, are difficult to read; what was he hoping for? It hardly seems like material the onetime provocateur (whose last film was 2006’s zesty Black Book) would be interested in on even his sleepiest day. As an experiment in how not to make a movie, though, it’s unlikely to be bested this year.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Opens February 26, Cinema Village