To the editor:
Jonathan Rosenbaum's frequent habit of referencing his "colleagues" in the screening room and then twisting their reactions to suit his own analysis of the film at hand is a questionable critical strategy to begin with. It at once affirms his own elitism and superiority over said colleagues by addressing them from some false, distanced vantage (as if he is the sole possessor of good taste, the mindful watcher of the watchers, lording silently over the screening room and surreptitiously, judgmentally taking notes) and fails to acknowledge that the dynamic of a small roomful of film critics, a specialized lot in a unique setting, does not even remotely represent that of a theater filled with regular, paying moviegoers.
Hence his use of his "younger colleagues...giggl[ing] with glee, or at least with an adolescent-male braggadocio" as an example of director Paul Verhoeven's bait-and-switch cleverness [August 11] hangs as an insult, especially when Rosenbaum twists the knife with a send-off written in the voice of the director: "Fuck you, you Neanderthal ignoramuses."
The opening scene in question (the bloody rat) occurs, if memory serves, literally a minute or two into the two-hour film, not coincidentally very shortly before the film gradually goes off the rails and becomes a joyless exercise in state-of-the-art action and bloodletting. This is not satire; this is weak storytelling. Perhaps the giggling colleagues (not me, tee hee!) in question were anticipating subversive sci-fi akin to Starship Troopers or superior camp like Showgirls and were tittering with anticipation. My recollection is that the laughs stopped well before invisible star Kevin Bacon smashed the puppy, not because tricky Verhoeven had done it again, but rather because he had failed to follow through on the viciously playful promise of the first scene by letting things just get vicious. Earlier anticipation had given way to the depression of disappointment, and while Rosenbaum may have found the film the perfect incentive to reassess Verhoeven's many talents, for many of his longtime defenders it was cause to doubt them.
Chicago Entertainment Editor