In the not-so-grand tradition of made-for-video sequels, “Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation” offers more of the same, only less. Follow-up to Paul Verhoeven’s love-it-or-hate-it 1997 sci-fi spectacle is sorely lacking in epic scope, sardonic satire and other elements that enabled previous pic, a middling B.O. performer, to acquire a rabid cult through cable and homevid exposure. Sequel emerges as a routine budget-crunched horror opus that will satisfy only undemanding genre fans.
Based on the famously militaristic novel by Robert A. Heinlein, the original “Starship Troopers” polarized auds with its crazy-quilt mix of gruesome mayhem and overstated self-parody, along with its frequent use of fascistic imagery as a wink-wink running gag.
In sharp contrast, the sequel takes a mostly serious approach to dramatizing Round Two of the ongoing war between the co-ed Mobile Infantry army of gung-ho Earthlings and hordes of giant man-eating bugs from outer space. Faux “recruiting commercials” that bookend the pic are the only laugh-out-loud, tongue-in-cheeky touches.
Making his inauspicious debut as a feature helmer, special effects wiz Phil Tippett (whose credits include “Jurassic Park” and the first “Starship Troopers”) dutifully toils within obvious budgetary restraints.
First “Starship” abounded in spectacular battle scenes that pit outnumbered Mobile Infantry forces against thousands of jumbo-size arachnids. (More than one critic noted a similarity to the combat sequences in “Zulu.”) “Starship 2” greatly diminishes the size of battles and number of combatants by having most action set inside a remote outpost on a distant planet.
Predictable scenario calls for surviving members of the decimated Mobile Infantry unit to await rescue while the rarely-glimpsed bugs hover outside in darkness.
With a little help from writer Ed Neumeier (scripter of the original pic), Tippett follows the same playbook as many other makers of low-budget sci-fi shockers. That is, he keeps interiors dimly lit and shrouded in shadows, offers only fleeting glimpses of f/x creatures, and uses actors, not expensive CGI, to provide menace.
Bloody violence and gratuitous nudity are relatively restrained by genre standards (which may not please fans of the original pic). Amid the grinding of plot mechanics and the springing of cheap scares, a few actors distinguish themselves: Richard Burgi as a disillusioned Mobile Infantry captain who makes no apologies for having killed his commander; Colleen Porch as a semi-psychic private who foresees very bad things in store for everyone; Brenda Strong (who appeared as another character in the first “Starship”) as a cigar-chomping sergeant; and vet character actor Ed Lauter as a hard-ass general who makes the unforgivable mistake of sleeping with the enemy.
Verhoeven receives “special thanks” in the final crawl, and Basil Poledouris gets a tip of the hat for composing original “Starship Troopers” theme. It should be noted, however, that Heinlein’s name is conspicuously absent from the credits.