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By Merle Bertrand | February 12, 2001

“It’s always fun until someone gets hurt.” How many times did we hear THAT growing up? While many a kid has tempted the fates by fighting in a backyard BB Gun battle or dirt clod war, few get as into it as does twelve-year-old Adrian (Ren Vanderlinden).
Adrian, a.k.a. “Sgt. Striker,” hunkers down in the “trenches,” which are really mounds of dirt excavated to make room for a brand new home, setting up a small army of action figures. His cute little sister Danielle (Chloe Crellin) tries to help her big brother, fashioning “grenades” out of dirt clods. Across the barren No Man’s Land, Adrian’s friend Toby (Mathew Porter) also sets up his army, in preparation for the epic battle to come.
Yet, Toby cheats, launching a sneak barrage of dirt clod grenades before Adrian’s ready. This enrages Adrian, bringing out his Sgt. Striker persona…and launching the viewer into the midst of the real-life battle that rages in the mind’s eye of Sgt. Striker. In here, the boys’ toy guns fire pulsing red lasers and their dirt clod grenades explode in clouds of smoke. In this world, too, the combatants are no longer toy soldiers, but real warriors; hulking loyal troops like Fireblast (Clint Vanderlinden), Slaughter (Ben Martin), and Red (Randy Kunz) who look as if they’ve stepped out of a WWF ring or an XFL locker room (same thing). They fight fiercely and valiantly in their effort to help Sgt. Striker gain glory.
But when Adrian gets carried away, abusing both his sister and his friend, it’s up to mom (Laura Lefler) to bring the over-excited boy-warrior back to reality…before someone puts their eye out.
One assumes that director Bryan Lefler has fought an imaginary war or two in his own back yard, because “Warplay” gets inside a child’s mind better than any film I’ve seen in a long time. Although the scale of the battle being fought here is fairly small, just a couple of soldiers on each side, the action is very well staged and the effects are surprisingly effective and sophisticated. DP Doug Chamberlain captures the essence of battle photography while Lefler does his part, drawing solid performances out of his trio of kid actors. Special kudos must be given to Ren Vanderlinden, who excellently conveys the ominous, brooding presence of a kid who, having played one too many video games, just might be taking his wargaming a little too seriously.
An excellent children’s fantasy come to life, “Warplay” also demonstrates, once again, that mom is always right. It IS always fun until someone gets hurt.

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