Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Now Playing at Cinema Village
A bit of preliminary bar-setting: however cursory the theatrical release of Paul Verhoeven’s 2012 sub-feature Tricked, there’s no way this little film would receive any kind of distribution without the Dutch master’s name attached. A behind-the-scenes promo doc called Paul’s Experience—which, incidentally, rounds the Tricked roadshow edition out to a cool 90 minutes—sees Verhoeven counterbalancing roles: national treasure-cum-Hollywood success story on the one hand, embattled artist who can’t seem to secure a deal on the other. Yes, Verhoeven is here acknowledging a substantial paycut from the halcyon days of Total Recall and Starship Troopers; on the other hand, as the plot machinations of Tricked were crowdsourced off a five-page treatment, the filmmaker places an avowed trust in “the unknown,” just as the film’s stars place theirs in his auteur reputation. If the resultant picture is a concession to the market forces that prevented Verhoeven from making the movies he actually wanted to make in the years following 2007’s magnificent Black Book, it also represents an attempt to “do a Verhoeven” within the Netherlands’ mainstream popular culture.
At one point in Paul’s Experience, the filmmaker dolefully asks nobody in particular: “Does anybody think this is a bit cheap or what?” Indeed it is: for all the goodwill of its back-to-basics intentions, Tricked craters on pretty much every applicable register. A garbage airport novella in 56-minute form, the film is equal parts depressing (in the context of Verhoeven’s prior glories) and depressed, in the context of its clipped-wings production budget. Peter Blok stars as Remco, a horndog executive working in some undisclosed corporate capacity (keywords: Dubai, bankruptcy, Chinese takeover) with his long-suffering wife Ineke (Ricky Koole). Rem’s 50th birthday party is crashed by a spurned mistress named Nadja (Sallie Harmsen), who turns up with a 7-months-pregnant belly, setting Rem’s contemporaries—and family—aflutter with facile rumors. To make matters worse, Rem’s current mistress Merel (Gaite Jansen) is best friends with his daughter, and engaged in a steady flirtation with his junior-horndog son Tobias (Robert de Hoog)—whose telltale polaroid of her exposed breasts casts an ominous pall on the party.
So this is a parable of the world’s dumbest philanderer (and also, if plot machinations are to be believed, businessman) surrounding himself with people he’s provided deep-seated incentives to screw him over. Being entitled Tricked, you’ll get an inkling of where this is all going long before Nadja’s baby bump has been exposed for the styrofoam MacGuffin that it always was. Granted, the feature-doc combo makes for an intriguing litmus test of “auteurism” and its discontents, but there’s not much stuffing to its findings beyond Verhoeven’s delight at switching between an Alexa and handheld. The best thing that can be said about Tricked is that the opening party scene feels consistent with the subsequent crowdsourced narrative that follows, all of which feels like generic daytime TV. This is, in sum, a bizarre milestone that needn’t have been so inglorious: it’s the most anonymous-feeling thing Verhoeven has made, and easily the tawdriest.