If you don't like Paul Verhoeven's new movie Tricked, you can blame the internet.
In particular, you can blame the 30,000 Dutch submissions that helped shape the film. Tricked is an experiment, Verhoeven admitted at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere — it's what he calls a "user-generated movie."
Here's how it worked: The first few minutes were put online, with a website for amateur screenwriters to sign up as users and submit their own content. Scenes were uploaded as individual episodes, and users contributed their own scripts for the next segment of the story. Verhoeven and his collaborators chose which submissions they wanted to film, occasionally modifying the scripts to fit their overall vision.
It's a little like the Surrealist game parlor game in which players passed around a story, adding their own sentences and pushing the narrative in whichever direction they wanted.
Tricked is a lot more focused than that, although at times, as Verhoeven put it, "It was so difficult to keep a certain narrative."
The finished product is a slight but entertaining comedy about a philandering businessman whose now-pregnant mistress returns. It's more seamless than you'd imagine, because Verhoeven and his colleagues worked to shape the various parts into a cohesive film.
If Verhoeven had let the users run wild, it's hard to imagine what the movie would have been. He said submissions were frequently off-the-wall, with surprise visits from aliens or the Mafia. One user found a way to work sadomasochistic sex into every segment. In this case, that wasn't the tone Verhoeven was looking for.
Unfortunately, the restraint makes Tricked disappointing. What's the point of a crowd-sourced movie if it's not at least a little bit batshit? And this is coming from Verhoeven, who helmed the cult classics Starship Troopers and Showgirls, neither of which held very much back.
Then again, Verhoeven has spent much of the past decade trying to reclaim his legitimacy. It was only when he made his 2006 film Black Book that critics began to take him seriously again. And he hasn't made an American movie since 2000's Hollow Man.
"Showgirls didn't help me in any way," he said in a candid post-film talk. "No studio would even dare to work with me on something that wasn't science fiction.… All the doors that opened after Basic Instinct closed after Showgirls."
But Tricked is unlikely to generate much response at all: it's really just OK. And the overlong documentary screened before the movie, which explains the submission process, slows the whole thing down.
To be fair, the film was never intended for festivals. It was going to be shown online and on Dutch television. The fact that it's getting any sort of international release is as much a surprise to Verhoeven as anyone.
The crowd-sourced movie idea is an interesting one and it will be interesting to see how other filmmakers might employ it in the future. The main problem is not only getting good content, but getting content that fits together — with thousands of submissions, that's close to impossible.
When an audience member asked if Verhoeven saw user-generated films as a viable model, he reflected, "There are only so many good writers." And of those, a significant number get lost in the shuffle due to the overwhelming volume of submissions. He continued, "I would not really think that this is the method to find people."
It's at least a concept worthy of further exploration — which, like Verhoeven as a director — we should take the time to reconsider. It's tough to call this particular experiment a success, however. The short documentary aside, there's nothing really wrong with Tricked, but that's not enough to live up to the hype.