No two ways about it – I *hated* this film when I first saw it. Not least because it has Denise Richards in a starring role, namely as a Beverley Hills 90210-style dolly bird of the future (and, let’s face it, the presence of Richards, with one or two exceptions, has normally been enough to put me off any film she’s in), but also because I simply didn’t get it, first time around. Why should I possibly care, I wondered, about an entire cast full of seemingly vacuous and definitely irritating characters in a future America that has gone fascist? Sure, the ‘Bug’ s/fx were amazing, but that didn’t stop all the scenes in which people actually speak from being arse-clenchingly annoying.
But then, thanks to the intervention of my very good mate Chris (whom I assumed, as usual, was simply enjoying the film on purpose to spite me, but I was wrong), I realised that I was missing the superb irony of Paul Verhoeven’s direction and the writing of Edward Neumeier, from the original Robert A. Heinlein novel which, it is fair to say, was very different from the film in many respects. In a nutshell, we’re not actually supposed to like any of the characters, not really – after all, they are fascist children of fascist parents, who have been brought up in a fascistic, militaristic system. Check out the following exchange by way of illustration:
Johnny Rico (Caspar Van Dien): Mr. Rasczak, I want to join the Federal Service and become a citizen. But my Dad thinks I should go to college and remain a civilian as he has. What should I do?
Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside): Figuring things out for yourself is practically the only freedom anyone really has nowadays. Use that freedom.
Or how about these quotes?
Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer): My mother always told me that violence doesn’t solve anything.
Jean Rasczak: Really? I wonder what the city founders of Hiroshima would have to say about that.
[To Carmen] Jean Rasczak: You.
Carmen (Denise Richards): They wouldn’t say anything. Hiroshima was destroyed.
Jean Rasczak: Correct. Violence has resolved more conflicts than anything else. The contrary opinion that violence doesn’t solve anything is merely wishful thinking at its worst.
Jean Rasczak: All right, let’s sum up. This year in history, we talked about the failure of democracy. How the social scientists of the 21st Century brought our world to the brink of chaos. We talked about the veterans, how they took control and imposed the stability that has lasted for generations since. We talked about the rights and privileges between those who served in the armed forces and those who haven’t, therefore called citizens and civilians.
Jean Rasczak: [To a student] You. Why are only citizens allowed to vote?
Student: It’s a reward. Something the federation gives you for doing federal service.
Jean Rasczak: No. Something given has no basis in value. When you vote, you are exercising political authority, you’re using force. And force my friends is violence. The supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived.
Jonny Rico and his chums are all about to graduate, and their various aptitudes are going to take them in very different directions of ‘service’ – Rico’s girlfriend (but not for long, she finishes with him, bitch) Carmen is set to become flygirl Lt. Carmen Ibanez, Rico is heading for the infantry, while Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) has certain ‘special’ abilities, namely psychic powers, which are to be used against the enemy they all face – a race of deadly, arachnid aliens (‘Bugs’) on the other side of the galaxy, whom it is perceived pose a mortal threat to humanity. And fascism, as we know only too well, always needs an enemy to make it tick, right?
First, Rico must undergo basic training, under the unforgiving tutelage of Career Sergeant Zim (a simply brilliant Clancy Brown):
Ace Levy (Jake Busey): Sir, I don’t understand. Who needs a knife in a nuke fight anyway? All you gotta do is push a button, sir.
Career Sergeant Zim: Cease fire. Put your hand on that wall trooper. PUT YOUR HAND ON THAT WALL!
[Zim throws a knife and hits Ace's hand, pinning it to the wall]
Career Sergeant Zim: The enemy cannot push a button…if you disable his hand. Medic!
So, what did I miss first time around? Quite simply, the film is a riot and, if you go into it armed with just a little perception of the games that Verhoeven and Co. are playing, you are going to like it so much more. There you go, Chris, is that enough by way of an apology?