Tricks of the Trade

One of our writers reviews a film with over one-hundred writers: Phil Concannon on Paul Verhoeven’s Tricked.

tricked

Last October, The Hollywood Reporter published a story about the complications that contemporary studio blockbusters are causing for the Writers Guild of America. With tentpole films no longer existing as standalone features but interlocking pieces of ever-expanding universes, studios are having to employ whole teams of writers to work out their convoluted storylines, but few of these contributors will see their name on the finished product, as WGA rules strictly limit the number of writers that a film can credit. This story came to mind as I watched the latest offering from a man who was once a central figure in the Hollywood mainstream but whose last involvement with an American film came over 15 years ago. Paul Verhoeven’s Tricked names three screenwriters in its closing credits, but the film has been constructed through submissions from hundreds of individuals.

For those of us who have been waiting for something new from Paul Verhoeven, whose sole completed feature since Hollow Man is 2006’s Black Book, this will have to do, although it’s only really half a movie. The director refers to the film as his 14½, and much like Fellini’s introspective opus, it is a film primarily concerned with the act of making a film. In fact, the first 35 minutes of Tricked consists of a behind-the-scenes view of how it was put together, beginning with the press conference at which the unconventional parameters of the project were announced, and ending with the first screening, where we see a tuxedoed Verhoeven standing in the wings, watching his creation with pride and, we might suspect, some relief.

The idea behind Tricked is that it would be the world’s first crowdsourced film. Verhoeven began with five pages of a script by Kim van Kooten that established a situation and introduced eight characters, with enough potential conflict and sexual intrigue to ensure that, whatever happened to these people, it sure wouldn’t be boring. Philandering businessman Remco is shagging his daughter’s best friend, unbeknownst to his daughter or his son, who also has a crush on the same girl. Poor old Remco is also having trouble at work, prompting two of his colleagues to try and facilitate a deal behind his back, and everything comes to a head at his 50th birthday party, when an old flame turns up heavily pregnant and insinuating that the child she’s carrying is his.

It’s a juicy enough setup, but the idea of having random people on the internet decide what happens next goes about as well as you’d expect. Halfway through the documentary portion of Tricked, Verhoeven expresses frustration at people’s desire to have the Russian mafia come in and blow everything up in the first ten minutes rather than respecting the needs of the narrative. At a certain point it seems that Verhoeven and his team took greater control of the writing process to ensure that their story retained a workable shape, although Tricked isn’t particularly clear on how this process all worked. Similarly, I’d have liked more information on how long it took to put this 55-minute film together. We are told that the filmmakers spent two months reading submitted scripts and Verhoeven discusses the difficulty of having to wait six or seven weeks before filming each new segment. Whatever the creative virtues this approach might entail, this is clearly an extraordinarily inefficient way of making a movie.

Still, Verhoeven seems to be having a good time, and he talks with undisguised glee about how making Tricked has got his creative juices flowing again. This is the first predominately handheld film that he has made since 1973’s Turkish Delight, and his enthusiasm seems to be transmitted throughout the whole production. At 55 minutes it could easily work as the pilot episode of a television series, and if that were the case I’d happily watch more of it, as Tricked is consistently entertaining and often extremely funny. The story actually feels a lot more predictable and conventional in its structure than I had expected, but the filmmaking is tight and energetic, and the acting is uniformly excellent, with Gaite Jansen in particular catching the eye.

Whether it has really broken new ground and expanded the possibilities of film storytelling or not (I suspect not), Tricked is undeniably good entertainment and I’m glad Paul Verhoeven has got his groove back, but is this trifle, coming in at less than an hour, really the sum total of his work in the decade that has elapsed between Black Book and the forthcoming Elle? That seems like a terrible waste for one of the most interesting filmmakers of the past 40 years. I’d certainly recommend that you take the opportunity to see Tricked, you’re sure to have a good time watching it, but I ended the film in exactly the same position that I was in when it started – impatiently waiting for the next Paul Verhoeven film.

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