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“The unknown forces you into being creative” is a mantra Paul Verhoeven repeats ad nauseam in the opening moments of Tricked, which is one-fourth nonfiction short and three-fourths feature. The filmmaker takes a large, and somewhat sideways, step out of his comfort zone in an attempt to find innovation within a new way of constructing a movie, using crowd-sourced material to develop a complete, linear screenplay.

Verhoeven took a five-page script written by professional screenwriter Kim van Kooten, posted it on the Internet, and then solicited submissions from the Dutch public to write the next “episode.” From there, the filmmakers edited and published each subsequent episode’s script online, further collecting continuations of the plot generated by random folks—like a Choose Your Own Adventure that readers must write themselves. Then the cast and crew filmed each episode five weeks apart, with extra attention given to tonal and character consistency, to allow Verhoeven time to assemble the next episode’s script from the dialogue and ideas put forth.

If this all seems like a bit too much explanation, it’s because Tricked spends its first 20 minutes breaking down the fourth wall, vaguely elaborating on the questionably grand experiment the crew is about to pull off. Verhoeven pontificates on the process from which the soon-to-be-seen finished product was developed by showing behind-the-scenes looks of the production, as well as the thousands of printed pages of public-submitted scripts to film the continuation of the exquisite corpse-like narrative. Tricked, however, is experimental in the way that the final product is much more of a labor-intensive challenge for the filmmakers than a cerebral one for audiences; the result is nothing more than an absurdist soap-operatic bauble.

The initial premise involves the 50th birthday celebration for bourgeois patriarch Remco (Peter Blok). His wife, Ineke (Ricky Koole), makes all the arrangements and greets the guests, while their voyeuristic son, Tobias (Robert de Hoog), takes creepy photos of the crowd, and their rebellious daughter, Lieke (Carolien Spoor) imbibes alcohol and snorts lines with her best friend upstairs. One attendee, Nadja (Sallie Harmsen), known to a majority of the party as Remco’s former mistress, shows up pregnant. Ineke claims she can deal with the occasional clandestine infidelity, but an accidental child with another woman is grounds for divorce.

In the midst of all this, a sleazy co-worker, Wim (Jochum ten Haaf), tries to force Remco into selling their architecture firm to Chinese investors, blackmailing Remco with the knowledge that he’s indeed the father of Nadja’s unborn child. Mysteries and ostensible twists and character deceits are perpetually put forth, each less compelling than the one that came before. Is the philandering Remco also sleeping with anyone else? Is Nadja really pregnant? Will Ineke leave her husband? Who cares?

Shot on handheld cameras, which at least contribute a kinetic panache to the goofball proceedings, the fictional feature is merely an hour-long trinket of facile entertainment, lacking in anything resembling subtext and theme. Is the implication of its title, Tricked, an impish nod to the ridiculous juxtaposition of highfalutin cinematic inquiry and resulting silly comedy? Who knows with a provocateur like Verhoeven? In this case, the method only breeds madness.

Verhoeven spends the first quarter of the film’s composite 85 minutes bloviating about this prospective new mode of filmmaking (he goes so far as to wink at Fellini and dub this his 14½), only to serve nothing more than an uninspired, if buoyant, piece of trashy farce more aligned with the dregs of television. Even the concept of taking the public’s advice while expanding a building plot via episodes sounds uncannily similar to the development of any television series—and is therefore hardly groundbreaking.

Verhoeven entered this endeavor with earnest glee, which is immensely apparent, hoping to learn new methods to channel creativity. Tricked ends up being a lesson, alright, though not in a new pathway to filmmaking, but as a reminder that a director should stick to developing their own vision rather than relinquishing power to the instant gratification of the audience.

85 min
Paul Verhoeven
Kim van Kooten, Robert Alberdingk Thijm, Paul Verhoeven, 397 Participants
Paul Verhoeven, Peter Blok, Ricky Koole, Robert de Hoog, Carolien Spoor, Gaite Jansen, Sallie Harmsen, Jochum ten Haaf