By Pete Vonder Haar | October 2, 2003

“How about a nice game of chess?”
David decides to ask some of his computer nerd brethren at the local university for help. The characters of Jim (Maury Chaykin) and Malvin (dork prototype Eddie Deezen – whose picture is next to the definition of “typecasting” in Webster’s), tell David of the existence of the magical “back door” in computer security. More importantly to us, they served as the templates for the American public’s perception of computer types for the next fifteen years.

They advise David to learn more about the man who designed the system, the late Dr. Stephen Falken (John Wood). The character of Falken was apparently based on Dr. Stephen Hawking, only the studio sexed him up by making him able to walk and talk and casting a relatively handsome actor. Hawking also hasn’t really had anything to do with computer programming, so go figure. Anyway, David discovers Falken’s password was the name of his prematurely deceased son, Joshua. And there’s the second Real World Computer Tip “WarGames” Taught Us: don’t use a family member’s name for a password. Or if you do, at least make it someone you don’t like. In no time, David (along with Jennifer, who was investigating where the hell David has been for the last week) has snuck into the W.O.P.R. And like any red-blooded American teenager, they start playing Global Thermonuclear War. As the Soviets.

The actions of the two adorable felons cause a simulation to start running in the W.O.P.R., convincing everyone in NORAD that a sneak attack is underway. Before McKittrick and company can figure out what the hell is going on, David shuts the game off. Joshua, in turn, acts like a jilted girlfriend and calls him back. It dawns on David that Joshua is a bit competitive, as “he” is continuing the countdown on the game. Meanwhile, the G-men track David down (presumably) thanks to Joshua’s call and swoop in to pick him up. Now the race is on for David to convince the military what the computer is up to and stop Joshua before the game timer reaches zero and the computer launches its missiles.

“I’d piss on a spark plug if I thought it’d do any good.”
There’s much to enjoy about “WarGames:” both Broderick (in his second movie role) and Sheedy (in her first) are easily believable as high schoolers. It probably doesn’t hurt that both actors, while 21 at the time, could still pass themselves off as several years younger (their respective DWI convictions and cocaine addictions were still years away). The computer-fu seems plausible, even if the idea that NORAD’s master control program was accessible by unsecured modem doesn’t. Dabney Coleman does a great Dabney Coleman impression as McKittrick, playing oily, menacing, and clueless by turn.

Speaking of clueless, my biggest complaint about “WarGames” is the way the character of David behaves when he’s not engaging in computer geekery. First, for a guy who was probably the first on his block with a modem, he seems remarkably at ease with Jennifer – a Live Girl. However, just when you think the guy’s geek cred must be suspect, he saves it by playing a freaking war game while a sweaty Ally Sheedy sits not five feet away. She even thigh grabs him as he tries to walk by at one point. For shame, Lightman.

And if this is a simulation, why is everybody so worried? Does the Army have to go through this crap every time someone wants to try out a different mock combat scenario? How the hell do they run actual war games? Further, does David ever try to type END, or QUIT, or STOP? How did the tech guys end the simulations before now, with a mallet?

Barry Corbin’s General Beringer is also one of those unfortunate caricatures of military men that seems out of place in an otherwise well-written film (writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes would go on to script “Sneakers,” another entertaining Movie About Smart People). I realize he’s meant to represent the old school military type who frets about all this new-fangled technology, but it’s a bit overdone. He does get some of the best lines, though.

Get the rest of the story in part three of FOOTAGE FETISHES: “WARGAMES”>>>

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