Three years after arriving on the international scene, Paul Verhoeven's Tricked arrives in the United States with Kino Lorber serving up the film both in theaters on Fandor. The film itself, running at slightly less than a full hour in length, is paired with the Michael Greive-directed documentary Tricked: Paul's Experience, an approximately 30-minute documentary that provides an inside look at Verhoeven's most extraordinary cinematic experiment, an experiment that even tops Soderbergh's grand low-budget experimental effort Bubble.
The film's life began in 2011 with an inspired crowdsourcing campaign that offered those who followed the campaign the opportunity to contribute to its creation based initially upon a four-page script written by Kim van Kooten. The result was the contribution of over 700 scripts assembled into some semblance of cohesion by Verhoeven, van Kooten, and Robert Alberdingk Thijm.
The finished product is, perhaps, my favorite kind of cinema in that it's flawed yet mesmerizing, a film that didn't do everything I hope for a film to do yet a film I absolutely couldn't stop watching from beginning to end. Greive's film sets, in many ways, the perfect tone for it as the camera only vaguely reveals anything yet calmly and wonderfully captures Verhoeven going about the processes of casting, creating, filming, etc. I couldn't help but think as I was watching the film that it didn't feel like I was so much watching a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a genius at work as I was simply watching a man relentlessly dedicated to his craft and to challenging his own creativity in every way possible. Everything that I saw in Tricked: Paul's Experience made me appreciate Tricked that much more.
Verhoeven, known to American audiences mostly for such films as Basic Instinct, Robocop, and Total Recall has always had a gift for challenging himself and working outside his comfort zone. In addition to his films that are most familiar to American audiences, he's created such masterpieces as Starship Troopers and his last film, Black Book. There's virtually no chance that Tricked will attract the acclaim of his greatest films, but it's also difficult to imagine his most devoted fans not having a deep respect for the creativity and effort put forth.
The opening scene in Tricked feels almost as if we've stumbled into a psychosexual journey through Clue. Remco (Peter Blok) is celebrating his birthday at home with a large gathering of what seem to be friends. Being that this is a film that runs slightly less than an hour, Verhoeven wastes no time in amping up the volume on the interpersonal drama. We learn that Remco's business is struggling, he's more than a little bit of a player, his business partners may very well be playing him, his children have their own conflicts and, to top everything off, Remco has Nadja, a former mistress now pregnant ex-mistress, show up at his door.
Trust me, Tricked never lets up from there.
Tricked doesn't have a whole lot of surprises, but it's impossible not to admire how Verhoeven has managed to construct a wobbly yet surprisingly consistent and cohesive story from over 700 contributed scripts. It may not result in the best film you've ever seen, but it's a pretty magnificent effort that held my attention throughout.
In Tricked: Paul's Experience, Verhoeven refers to his film as his own 8 1/2, a curious admission that may very well have you watching Tricked even more closely. You may also find yourself watching the film and trying to figure out when one contributed scene begins and when one ends, though I personally found myself enjoying the film enough that I stopped caring about such trivialities.
If you're going into Tricked expecting the film to be Verhoeven's latest masterpiece, you may find yourself disappointed. This isn't because the film is weak, but because it's an exercise in creativity outside his usual realm and with results outside his usual results. If you, on the other hand, fancy yourself a true Verhoeven fan or simply a fan of the true art of filmmaking then this is a film you'll definitely want to catch.
Paul Verhoeven's Tricked opens in theaters and on Fandor on February 26th before making a limited arthouse run through March.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic