Last of the Monster Kids

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Director Report Card: Paul Verhoeven (2012)

15. Tricked

“Black Book” was a success, both in Holland and abroad. Despite this, Paul Verhoeven still seemingly disappeared from the film world for quite some time. Occasionally, you'd hear about an upcoming project. Such as a long gestating (and controversial) film about the life of Christ, which would eventually take the form of a book instead. In 2012, out of nowhere it seemed to us Americans, a new film popped up on Verhoeven's IMDb page. Entitled “Tricked,” there was very little information about the project. Eventually, the mysterious movie would get a U.S. DVD release, allowing fans of the director to finally figure out what the heck this thing was.

So what is “Tricked,” anyway? It's a fifty minute film that Verhoeven created as part of something called the Entertainment Experience. The idea behind the project was intriguing. The first four pages of the script were written by Dutch screenwriter and actress, Kim van Kooten. After Verhoeven filmed that beginning, the story was opened up, via the internet, to fans. Scripts for the next installment – totaling eight all together – were submitted from all over the country. The director and his team would consider which set of pages were best and proceed from there. In other words, even the filmmakers and actors making the movie had no idea where it would end up.

To boost the fifty minute short to feature length, “Tricked” is packaged with a documentary about its own making. Which, in what might seems like an odd move, plays before the actual movie. Honestly, my favorite thing about this opening documentary has very little to do with “Tricked” itself. Just watching Paul Verhoeven be himself is a lot of fun. Included is footage of the director on the set of “Starship Troopers.” We get to see him running around, yelling and screaming, impersonating the giant bugs that would be added later with CGI. “Tricked's” first half concludes with the director speaking about what the project meant to him, personally. He compares it to Felini's “8½,” saying this is only his 14½ movie. When the interviewer asks him to clarify this, he refuses, with a mischievous grin. No wonder actors talk about how much fun it is to make a film with Verhoeven. The guy clearly enjoys his job.

As with any documentary about making movies, the first half of “Tricked” gets into the challenges every production deals with. There's a lengthy sequence devoted to finding the right house to shoot in. Even after finding the perfect location, there's the trouble of shooting inside a residential building. Houses are made for families, not so much for film crews and all the required equipment. We see the challenges in casting, in auditioning many actors and narrowing it down to the right ones. Verhoeven discusses making a movie with a smaller budget than what he was used to on his Hollywood blockbuster. It's interesting, though the kind of stuff other docs have covered.

More compelling are the challenges unique to this project. Verhoeven quickly discovered that directing a crowd sourced movie was more difficult than expected. The original plan was to use the best submitted scripts. Verhoeven, however, wasn't satisfied with any one script. Instead, he compiled the best ideas from multiple submissions. This was an exhausting endeavor, considering thousands of potential screenplays were submitted. And they did this eight times! He struggled with writers who didn't stick to the tone set by the first four pages. More than one submission apparently dissolved into gun fights. Eventually, Verhoeven gathered some of the writers and gave them simple lessons about structure, construction, and pacing. Which is Writing 101 but, clearly, not all the amateurs knew this.

Eventually, the director discusses how freeing he found the experience. He talks how, without a massive Hollywood budget hanging over his head, he was able to lightly storyboard a film for the first time in years. This led to a more improvisational shooting style, which was further supported by the handheld cameras the crew used. That kind of free wheeling energy is evident in “Tricked” itself. The documentary proceeding “Tricked” is fun, if inessential, yet still give us plenty of insight into the movie's unique production.

Which brings us to “Tricked” itself. The film revolves around Remco, a Dutch businessman, on his fiftieth birthday. Several unexpected events happen at the party. There's some strange tension between Remco and Merel, the best friend of Lieke, his teenage daughter. Two of Remco's business partners are clearly plotting something, burning an important document in the bathroom. Most pressingly, Nadja – one of Remco's former mistresses – shows up pregnant. The next day, Remco discovers that his partners have conspired to sell his own company out from under him. And if Remco signs off on this, Nadja will deny the baby is his. Merel and Tobias, Remco's son, end up sleuthing into this scheme.

Going into “Tricked,” I had no idea what to expect. Very little has been written about the film, so I didn't even know what genre it fell into. All the posters and DVD covers suggest “Tricked” is a thriller. This is misleading. “Tricked” is, in fact, a comedy. Now, certainly, it's a dark comedy. As the title indicates, deception is the primary theme of the story. Each of the eight main characters are misleading each other. Remco is screwing around on his wife. His wife hides how much she knows about his affairs. Tobias is hiding his feelings for Merel. Merel, meanwhile, is hiding her secret lover from Lieke. The story constantly turns, revealing new information every few minutes. Yet the tone remains light and zippy. By the conclusion, “Tricked” is laugh-out-loud funny. A hilarious incident involving a pair of scissors brings the web of lies crashing down. The final frame is an uproarious switcharoo.

At the center of the story is an extremely dysfunctional family. Ineke, Remco's wife, is fully aware of his infidelity. She's always balanced his extramarital activity with their home life. Lieke,  the daughter, is a budding addict. She snorts a few lines of cocaine in one scene and is rarely seen without a glass of wine the rest of the time. Tobias, meanwhile, shows his affection for Merel by photoshopping her head onto pictures of nude models. The patriarch seems totally unaware of these problems. During a tense dinner, he mostly discusses his job, while his children argue with one another. It's clear that there's some problems at home.

You might expect “Tricked” not to feel like a Paul Verhoeven movie, due to its crowd sourced screenplay. Think again. “Tricked” doesn't lack the director's trademarks. There's sleazy sex, male frontal nudity, and a vomiting sequence. Meanwhile, you can easily draw a line from “Basic Instinct” and “Hollow Man” to “Tricked.” All three films deal with macho men being led to doom by their libidos. Remco has a long line of mistresses. The film, however, depicts his philandering behavior as pathetic. It's clear that Rembo is overcompensating for the lack of control in his life by manipulating vulnerable woman. That the character is such a blank makes the implicit criticism clear. “Tricked” is another Verhoeven film devoted to assassinating the fragile male ego.

It's also another Verhoeven film about women using their wiles to succeed. There's two unlikely heroines in “Tricked.” Merel, at first, appears to be another one of Remco's conquests. As “Tricked” goes on, Merel ends up uncovering Nadja's deception. Afterwards, in one of the film's most delightful sequences, she dumps Remco before he can dump her. The second heroine is Ineke, the put upon wife. She takes the action necessary to save her husband's job. The wife and the young mistress come out on top in “Tricked,” surprising and amusing the audience. This puts the film in line with Verhoeven's “Katie Tippel” and “Showgirls,” though its portrayal ends up being more positive than either of those.

“Tricked” has a pretty good cast too. The stand-out performance is Gaite Jansen as Merel. She has an unobtrusive sexuality, slowly charming the audience with her youthful good looks and unassuming attitudes. As the story progresses, Jansen's performance also reveals a skillfully hidden intelligence. Carolien Spoor, as Lieke, is one of the film's funniest performances. Upon discovering her best friend's affair, she has a massively amusing freak out.  Ricky Koole as Ineke has a cooler exterior, only hinting at how cunning she is. The men, almost intentionally, don't seem as well developed. Peter Blok plays Remco as almost goofy, a hopelessly unaware guy. Robert de Hoog as Tobias, meanwhile, plays up the younger brother's bizarre habits.

Paul Verhoeven might have had mixed feelings about the Entertainment Experience. He still succeeded in making “Tricked” his own. The result is an undeniable trifle that still manages to be highly entertaining. At least one more film has emerged from the Entertainment Experience project. Another Dutch film, called “Lotgenoten,” was made from the same material as “Tricked” but by different directors. A Chinese version, possibly helmed by John Woo, has also been kicked around. Though destined to be overlooked, Verhoeven fans should check out “Tricked,” a really fun, if brief, film. [Grade: B+]

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