In the fall of 1997, the Paul Verhoeven-directed sorta-adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers left filmgoers as overwhelmed and befuddled as the sculpted and coiffed cannon fodder onscreen. Time, interpretation, and critical reassessments have been kinder to the film’s satirical aims, while current events have made its fascist 23rd century look uncomfortably closer to our own reality.
Never ones to let a movie’s good reputation get in the way of good jokes, the crew at RiffTrax first earned citizenship by blasting away at Arachnids in movie theaters in 2013. Now, with a much smaller adversary posing a threat to humankind, they’ve signed up for a second tour of duty, remotely, following up their Stranger Things riff from July with a Starship Troopers encore conducted via the Scener app on Tuesday, September 29—right before the film leaves Netflix.
Asked via email what made RiffTrax eager to revisit Starship Troopers, Michael J. Nelson replied, “Three reasons: Casper, Van, and Dien. Or is it Neil, Patrick, and Harris? Really, though, it’s just the goofy elements and the fact that it’s also very watchable.”
That’s one thing that’s easy to lose sight of when appreciating the finer points of Starship Troopers: It’s still a wildly entertaining movie, one where Van Dien, Harris, and Denise Richards get armed to the teeth in order to fight big insects in space. “It has plenty of satirical moments, some of them really good,” said RiffTrax’s Bill Corbett. “But this doesn’t seem like a big recent revelation, especially if you know Paul Verhoeven’s other stuff. And there’s also plenty in the movie that is played 100% straight, particularly the long action sequences. So it’s not Doctor Strangelove.”
“Starship Troopers cannot be hurt by us,” Corbett said. “It will exist and will still be enjoyed even after we at RiffTrax are, inevitably, killed by giant war-bugs.”
Another key to Starship Troopers’ RiffTrax compatibility lies in Nelson’s comment: Star Casper Van Dien fits a leading-man mold that’s ripe for riffing. In the role of Juan “Johnny” Rico (who’s from Buenos Aires, and who says “Kill ’em all”), Van Dien serves his part in the same handsome, heroic, chunkheaded lineage as RiffTrax and Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan favorites like Miles O’Keefe and Reb “Big McLargehuge” Brown. Though, as Murphy pointed out, Van Dien—who’s also at the helm of the RiffTrax feature Star Raiders: The Adventures Of Saber Raine—isn’t without his unique attributes.
“Subtler than your Van Damme, less meaty than your Gerard Butler, considerably shorter than your Dolph,” Murphy said. “And to his credit, he always seems to enjoy what he’s doing, even when he’s watching his girlfriend get skewered by a giant insect.”
Tickets for RiffTrax: Starship Troopers are now available; a Netflix account and the Scener Chrome extension are required to join the stream night-of.