My guess is, you’re thinking this is gonna be some kind of hipster-douchebag ironic swipe at Mr. Van Dien (and admittedly, the title of this post probably doesn’t do much to dissuade that). However, you couldn’t be any more off the mark. Oh, don’t get me wrong: back in the late 90s I wasn’t exactly on Team Casper, but that was misguided — I was appalled at what a mess Paul Verhoeven had made of Starship Troopers and Casper just kind of got sucked into the maelstrom. However, over the last couple years I’ve re-evaluated that position.
True story: I met Casper Van Dien back in 1995. I was working as a makeup effects assistant on Beastmaster 3 (a.k.a. Beastmaster: The Eye of Braxus) and Casper was playing one of the Beastmaster’s pals (or something, I don’t remember now) — this was before Starship Troopers, so Casper was just another oiled-up guy in a loincloth at the time (and I was just a long-haired dude gluing stuff to David Warner).
Cut to: a couple years later, and I’m walking out of the theater after seeing Starship Troopers. And boy, was I unhappy.
But it was wrong to hold Casper responsible for the failings of that movie.
I recently went on a major-league Casper Van Dien movie-watching binge, and I have to say — I really dig the guy. I mean that in the most hetero way possible, too. I’ve by no means seen anything close to all of his movies, of course. Here’s the list of the ones I watched (in no particular order):
- Tarzan and the Lost City (1998)
- Under Heavy Fire (a.k.a. Going Back, 2001)
- Slayer (2006)
- Shark Attack (1999)
- On the Border (1998)
- The Fallen Ones (2005)
- Aces N’ Eights (2008)
By far the best of those is Aces N’ Eights, directed by Craig Baxley — it’s a very entertaining western (co-written by Dennis Shryack, who wrote Pale Rider and The Gauntlet), featuring solid performances from Casper, Bruce Boxleitner, Ernest Borgnine, Jeff Kober, William Atherton and Jack Noseworthy (among others). Casper is starting to show a little age and really delivered as grizzled ex-gunhand Luke Rivers. I’d like to see him do more westerns — he wears it well.
The other flicks are entertaining to varying degree, the bottom of the barrel being Shark Attack (but director Bob Misiorowski’s earlier flick On the Border made up for it). In Shark Attack, Casper basically plays the Richard Dreyfus character from Jaws if he got into fistfights, did stunts, and fought mad scientists and evil land-grabbers (dang, I’m making it sound pretty cool, actually). And I’m not gonna be one of those jerks who says some cheesy flick is “vastly superior” to a bigger, more well-known movie, but I have to say I kind of feel like Tarzan and the Lost City came a little closer to portraying the Jungle Lord as he was in Burroughs’ books than, say, Greystoke. Is it a better movie, though? Huh-uh. Slayer gets special mention just for being damnably fun to watch — Casper is the leader of a military unit sent into Mexico to battle vampires (including Ray Park!), with the guidance of Danny Trejo (! again) — and his commanding officer is Lynda Carter, who still looks stunning (and still wears a mean tight shirt).
Now, I’ve written a movie or two in my time, and I’ve come away from this Casper binge wishing I could write a flick for the man myself — but more than anything I think that if Marvel Studios has any sense at all, they’d sign Casper to play Frank Castle now that they’ve regained the rights to the Punisher. Casper has grown into himself, if that makes any sense, and watching him in Under Heavy Fire and especially Aces N’ Eights makes me think he could do a fine job of portraying the vigilante killing machine.
So there you have it. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s getting late and I have three more Casper Van Dien flicks in my Netflix streaming queue…