Made as part of a yearlong online audience-participation stunt, with scenes and plot points based on user suggestions, Paul Verhoeven’s 53-minute sex-and-business farce Tricked doesn’t get within spitting distance of the subversive Dutch master’s best work, but the fact that it’s fast-paced and diverting (rather than, say, a god-awful mess) is a credit to his skill at black comedy. The manic plot, with a twist every minute, suggests automatic writing by the crowdsourced national subconscious, scrawled with anxieties that range from Chinese takeovers to faked pregnancies. (In the making-of documentary that precedes the film, Verhoeven admits to nixing a popular suggestion to have the Russian mafia kill off all of the characters.) Bereft of subtext and shot in a largely handheld, TV-ready style, it lacks Verhoeven’s usual deep bite, despite the cynical punch line of the ending.
Still, there’s something to be said for the fun that Verhoeven’s cast and writing team seem to be having with all of the ideas lobbed at them. Set in the world of the Dutch haute bourgeoisie, Tricked opens on the 50th birthday of philandering businessman Remco Albrecht (Peter Blok), who is carrying on an affair with his coked-up daughter’s best friend, Merel (Gaite Jansen), and soon finds himself being blackmailed over an earlier extra-marital relationship by his partners in a construction company. From there, it’s one long string of uncovered secrets and half-assed schemes, dashed with a few burlesque physical gags, like Remco’s daughter, Lieke (Carolien Spoor), quickly gulping down half a glass of white wine before splashing it in Merel’s face. There is a Dubai construction project that gets forgotten about until it pops up at the end; a pervert son (Robert De Hoog) who appears to have been re-written as a sympathetic love interest by the users; and a lot of important clues being disposed of in the same toilet during a party.
Aside from the crisp dolly shots lavished on Merel’s blue scooter every time it pulls up to a curb, Tricked doesn’t really look like a Verhoeven movie; one can’t help but think how the three Rammstein songs on the soundtrack—an eccentric choice that eventually comes across as inspired—could have complemented his usually showy style. But the fundamental problem is that Tricked is more mildly amusing than funny, and most of said amusement comes from the pacing, which is one uninterrupted sprint. Considering the production conditions (filmed on the cheap, with month-long breaks between scenes) and undigested, all-over-the-place plotting, Verhoeven more than rises to the challenge of keeping things moving and tightly organized. The movie flies by, and a viewer almost wishes that it had more of an impression to leave. But one can’t fault what was basically a stretching exercise; as of this writing, Verhoeven is putting the finishing touches on Elle, his first feature in a decade.