Black Book (15)

Resistance is puerile
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The Independent Culture

After the hits Robocop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct, and the misses Showgirls, Starship Troopers and The Hollow Man, Hollywood had had enough of Paul Verhoeven, and vice versa, so he returned to his native Netherlands to make a drama set in The Hague during the last months of the Second World War. Don't be fooled, though. Whether it's located in contemporary California, future Detroit or 1940s Holland, Verhoeven-land is always the same high-gloss fantasy world where men are square-jawed sharp-shooters and women are blondes who see underwear as an unnecessary indulgence.

The blonde in Black Book starts the film as a brunette called Rachel (Carice van Houten, right). When her family is slaughtered by the Germans, she joins the Resistance, adopts a new identity, and bleaches her hair to disguise her Jewishness - Verhoeven being Verhoeven, she dyes her pubic hair, too. Her mission is to infiltrate Nazi headquarters by seducing the stamp-collecting SS chief, Muntze (Sebastian Koch), which is the director's cue for some back-to-Basic Instinct sex scenes, ie, acres of nudity, plus the frisson of knowing that one of the lovers might be about to kill the other.

This sort of hyper-noir soft-porn might be what Verhoeven does best, but he and his co-writer don't stick with it for long. Dispensing hurriedly with Rachel and Muntze's affair, they jump from one plot-line to the next. There's even a lengthy post-war sequence which indicts the Dutch's brutal punishment of collaborators. It doesn't gel.

As horrifying as the story should be, it's difficult to get too upset when it's all treated as a hearty adventure, and when, at the scrag-end of a ruinous conflict, everyone is flatteringly lit, well fed, and dressed - some of the time - in brand new couture. Nazis haven't looked this glitzy since The Producers.