Friday, February 26, 2016

Tricked: Paul Verhoeven Harnesses the Dutch Internet

Perhaps Paul Verhoeven should have used this crowd-sourcing technique for Hollow Man. It is far from fool-proof, but at least he could have avoided its creepy rapiness. Instead, Verhoeven employed the distributed networking model for his hyped-up follow-up to his triumphant Dutch homecoming film Black Book. He started with four scripted minutes, relying on the internet to provide the rest of Tricked (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

In four minutes, Kim van Kooten establishes the eight main characters. The rest was crowd-sourced or “user-generated.” It sounds pretty straight forward, but Verhoeven and his cast talk about it in agonizing detail in the “making of” epk-ish film that screens ahead of the fifty-five minute Tricked. From all their talk of breakthroughs and innovations, you would think they were filming the first soundie. Perhaps the only surprising revelation is the relatively high quality of submissions. Verhoeven expected to lean on a handful of super-users, but he had binders full of contributions that were under consideration.

So it took hundreds of Dutch viewers to tell the tale of Remco, the philandering head of an architectural firm, who is under pressure from his two partners to sell out to the Chinese. At the worst possible time, Nadja, his former office hook-up returns from abroad with a massive baby bump. That gives his wife Ineke all kinds of attitude, but his current mistress Merel takes it more in stride. Since she is besties with Remco’s boozy party-girl daughter Lieke, she is not about to get all dramatic and call attention to their affair.

The fact that Tricked is a bit of a tonal mishmash really isn’t Verhoeven’s fault, since he really had no idea where it was headed. Likewise, the cast is also understandably tentative in the early going. Having no idea if their characters are ultimately sympathetic or detestable, they had to keep their options open. Frankly, the fact that it flows together as smoothly as it does is quite impressive. In fact, plenty of credit is due to Verhoeven and editor Job Ter Burg.

Veteran Dutch actor Peter Blok is appealingly roguish as Remco and Gaite Jensen is quite dynamic and engaging as the surprisingly proactive Merel. However, seven hundred Dutchmen should really have their heads examined for making Remco’s slacker son Tobias into a supposedly endearing antisocial pervert. Robert de Hoog does his best under the circumstances, but his scenes courting Merel are face-palm worthy.

Given the nature of the project, most of the blame for what does not work can also be distributed among hundreds of contributors. The one glaring exception is Fons Merkies’ ghastly score. Verhoeven and his cast put in a lot of work to make this gimmick look like legitimate cinema, but the carnival-style music makes you expect to see twenty or thirty clowns come piling out of a compact car.

Essentially, Tricked started out as an earnest attempt at sexual intrigue, but became a parody of sudsy melodramas. The important thing is it manages to be watchable in a less trainwreckish kind of way than some of Verhoeven’s notorious films (Showgirls anyone?). Recommended for the curious, Tricked opens today (2/26) in New York at the Cinema Village and also launches day-and-date on Fandor, but without the relentlessly self-congratulatory behind-the-scenes video, therefore making it the preferred viewing alternative.