All Hail Paul Verhoeven, King of Perverts
"Sometimes in life you need to step into the unknown," says Dutch director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Showgirls, Basic Instinct) in the beginning of Tricked, the half-documentary, half-movie that's playing at the Tribeca Film Festival. He's referring to the crowd-sourced script of the project at hand, for which he rifled through thousands of fan-submitted pages to assemble a cohesive, 50-minute narrative film.
The first part of Tricked documents this interactive process, albeit not as clearly as it should. Screenwriter Kim van Kooten devised four minutes of a script and the rest was left to the audience, who submitted their visions for the established characters in brief episodes. The exact interplay between Verhoeven's crowd of writers and the director isn't really specified. We see Verhooven shooting in bits, pausing to wait for his outsourced plot developments, and we see workshops with a small group of writers, but exactly how the crowd was informed of the decided upon elements so that it could proceed writing the next plot is fuzzy.
The burden of the unknown, though, soon becomes clear. When Verhoeven isn't effusively motor-mouthing about his process and filmography, he is complaining about having to rely on common people for his story. They are shortsighted and don't think about the story as a whole. Not one script draft is perfect throughout, so the main script is stitched together from a range of input. The stop-start filming is "very annoying." When you don't know what's coming next for your characters, it throws your film's coherence into jeopardy. And on and on. Verhoeven is as tense as he is intense, though his time bomb never detonates. Thus, besides the project's exquisite corpse conceit and the complications it causes, there initially seems to be little of note on set that justifies capturing and presenting the process at all, much less before the actual feature.
But showcasing Tricked's crowd-sourced origins ultimately demonstrates that what the people want are smutty dramatics. Or at least, that's what Verhoeven's type of people want — from their ideas that he has assembled a light, Euro family dramaedy along the lines of A Christmas Tale, in which family patriarch Remco's (Peter Blok) habitual cheating provides a comedy of errors that everyone in his immediate radius is part of. Most of them laugh along. Rem's daughter Lieke (Carolien Spoor) openly snorts coke, his son Tobias (Robert de Hoog) Photoshops giant breasts on his sister's friend and Remco's suspected mistress Merel (Gaite Jansen), his wife Ineke (Ricky Koole) plays a card that could end up in murder-by-shears based on a tip from someone she has no business trusting. The plot hinges on a used tampon that is, according to Lieke, "size super — and when I say super, I mean super super."
Perhaps because its script was developed in episodes, Tricked feels more like a TV show than any of the other exuberant, essential trash that Verhoeven has turned out over the past four decades. Cuts punctuate the rhythm between characters in order to reflect the banter-heavy dialogue, and the story breezes from one outrageous development to the next. It's lighter in tone than Verhoeven's usual output, so the camp element is dramatically reduced. But the director of Showgirls knows his farce and despite all the grousing about the unknown, he orchestrates the ridiculousness of Tricked with his usual mastery.
Even at their most bonkers, Verhoven's films have never quite fit into the classic "Notes on Camp" criteria because they do carry with them at least the ambiguity of awareness. (He had to know that people would laugh at Al telling Nomi in Showgirls, "It must be weird, not having anybody cum on you." Right? Right?) The most illuminating offering within the dry first half of Tricked is Verhoven's own ambiguous self-awareness. Not once does he mention Showgirls, surely his most enduringly notorious film. While discussing his inability to repeat himself, he claims that before Basic Instinct, he never made a thriller, which simply isn't true: Not only was his 1983 movie The Fourth Man a thriller, elements of its plot echoed loudly in Instinct. He speaks with the fervor of an expression junkie who's never even heard the words "rock bottom," like his lurid human satires are always just kicking to come out. He is a craftsman of filth, an architect of worlds where everyone just kind of laughs and shrugs at everyone's perversions. His vision is equally titillating and utopian.
[Image via Getty]