A wartime resistance film incorporating the Holocaust and comic book adventurers, Black Book often plays like Melville's Army of Shadows by way of Modesty Blaise. A few wags on the festival circuit reportedly went even further and dubbed it Schindler's List meets Showgirls, which makes sense when you consider that the director of Black Book and Showgirls are one and the same — Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch-born filmmaker whose Hollywood resume also includes Robocop and Basic Instinct.
In Black Book, Verhoeven's first film in nearly six years, the director attempts to show us his serious side while indulging his well-documented taste for stylish violence, naked flesh and all manner of provocatively lurid shenanigans. Carice von Houten stars as Rachel, an attractive and spunky Jewess in the German-occupied Holland of 1944, who winds up working some Mata Hari magic for the Dutch resistance. Rachel dies her hair blonde, sheds her clothes and becomes the mistress of a high-ranking Gestapo officer, at which point various plots and conspiracies unravel as the bullets fly and bodies pile up.
Verhoeven seems re-energized working in his native Holland again, and Black Book moves at a brisk pace that manages to keep things fairly suspenseful for well over two hours. The movie also offers some interesting and surprisingly sophisticated moral observations in which there often doesn't seem to be all that much difference between the Nazi villains and the "good Dutchmen" the film is constantly holding up to the light. That said, the movie's more vulgar excesses sometimes make it hard to take Black Book all that seriously. Even if you can get past the fat, naked Nazis groping all that nubile flesh, there's some pretty silly melodrama going on here, and enough coincidences in the last act to test anyone's patience.
Black Book (NR) Stars Carice van Houten, Derek de Lint, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn and Waldemar Kopus. Opens May 4 at Tampa Theatre. Call theater to confirm. 3 stars.