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Theatrical Review

Kino Lorber; 85 minutes

Director: Paul Verhoeven & Michael Greive

Written by on February 24, 2016 

Paul Verhoeven’s new-ish feature, Tricked — now hitting domestic shores more than three years after its international debut — is among the stranger exercises we’ve seen from genre cinema in recent years, and I doubt anyone would have my reaction if they were only treated to the final work. Here is a work of many, many contradictions, so numerous that after a while they’re practically stacked on top of each other: thinly plotted and straightforward, yet stuffed to the gills with disturbances and double-crosses; rather chaste, yet willing to indulge any opportunity to feature nudity or states of undress; clearly made for little money, yet composed with an eye for location that lends it great atmosphere. These traits signal inanity, not innovation, but could be explained by a second project — one that isn’t the Dutchman’s own work, yet still comes with your purchase.

Those seeing Tricked in its U.S. run will first be treated to Tricked: Paul’s Experience, a 30-minute, Michael Greive-directed documentary that details the project’s strange history. This began in 2011 with a crowdsourcing campaign that allowed anyone following its development to submit their own contributions to the screenplay — which, as written by Kim van Kooten, existed as only the first four pages — via an online campaign. It’s estimated that around 700 scripts, in turn thousands upon thousands of pages, were submitted — forcing van Kooten, Verhoeven, co-writer Robert Alberdingk Thijm, and, by the look of it, just about every involved party to shape a coherent film around the material.

Tricked 1

This, needless to say, is a monumental task, and thus before even entering the film proper we’re peeking at various behind-the-scenes struggles. (This isn’t so much watching the chef chop up a cow as it is watching him chase said cow through a field, every once in a while tripping over, losing grip of his cleaver, etc.) Verhoeven is front and center: while calm on the set, working through the directorial building blocks as one sees many a time in material of this sort, off-set he’s talking in a frantic manner that sounds closer to justification than pontification. Hardly promising, yes, but indicative of fewer problems than this scenario might suggest and a more intriguing build-up than the initial motions (e.g. auditioning actors, scouting locations) might let on. By the time Tricked: Paul’s Experience has come to an end, we have little idea of how the film will turn out — or what it’s about, for that matter — making all the more curious his admission that what we’re about to see is not only “a self-portrait,” but “my .” He won’t explain why; all he wants us to do is watch and find the hidden meaning.

I’d prefer to punt on that brand of authorial imprint, not least of which is due to a lack (save for a brief set of opening titles) of any respite between making-of and finished product. What we can ascertain, however, is some immediate kinship between one and the other. Tricked’s opening scene plays a bit like the start of a choose-your-own-adventure novel about (for?) sleazy adults, positively brimming with possibilities as to how things might go wrong: a wealthy businessman, Remco (Peter Blok), is celebrating his birthday with a big party in his home, and there are immediately the seeds of drama (delivered through horribly expository dialogue) with regard to his (potentially) crumbling empire, tensions among his children, and… a pregnant mistress at his door!

Things are more or less nonstop from there: these small-scale thrills feel as brief as their 55-minute runtime, the narrative framework crammed with one suggestion after another while the camera serves entirely functional purposes as observer and volley from one part of a room to the next. (I assume this visual strategy was employed to save time, due to a) Verhoeven offering no good explanation as to why almost the entire film was shot handheld and b) the documentary perhaps explaining on its own by showing what use might be wrung from multiple angles being composed simultaneously.) And so Tricked‘s greatest pleasure is watching one suggestion for scenes (and developments within scenes) quickly follow another á la some sort of incident-delivering assembly line. Did one of the screenwriters suggest that breasts be shown, no matter how remarkably unbelievable the circumstances under which they appear? Then perhaps some breasts should be shown. Did the words “bloody tampon” come up in a script note and catch someone’s eye? That object will be central to the plot. Do the words “Dubai,” “China,” and “in this economy” belong in a thriller relevant to our times? But yes!

Tricked 2

One could say I’m more appreciative of its narrative economy than economic narrative, yet the numerous betrayals, bevy of sleazy characters, corporate intrigue, and sexual cat-and-mouse games — all things that could strike one as appreciably light if taken merely as genre tenets played in a soft key — are underwhelming in light of the fact that Verhoeven made all of these iconic decades ago. It’s uninspiring as is, and no less helpful is a quality to the cinematography and slate of shot choices — a flat, affectless procession that, as I think the picture’s length helps suggest, sometimes plays closer to television than cinema.

This is all to say that, on its own, Tricked is an entertaining trifle that would certainly disappoint in light of Verhoeven’s last feature, Black Book, and might leave one wondering what’s in store when his next project, Elle, premieres later this year. Presented alongside 30-minute documentary “supplement” that one must consider part of a single text — it’s certainly no minor part of a runtime that hits just 85 minutes — the film and Greive’s contribution make for something rather stirring. Unprecedented, even.

Tricked will enter a limited theatrical release and hit iTunes & Fandor on Friday, February 26.


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