By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Teen hacks government computer.
David (Matthew Broderick) is a teenager who’s a whiz with computers and even able to dial up his school’s machine and change his grades without anyone noticing. One day he unknowingly hacks into a military computer where he and his girlfriend Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) begin to play a game of global nuclear war while unaware that everyone at NORAD the military base is seeing the game as it’s being played and thinking that it is the real thing.
The film does a great job of showing the nuclear missiles up close while still in their silos and ready to fire, which gives the viewer a frightening awareness of just how real the potential is. The NORAD command center, which is quite impressive, was built specifically for the film at a cost of one million and is apparently even more elaborate than the real one.
David’s hacking talents do seem a bit farfetched, but if you’re able to suspend your disbelief a little then it’s a pretty cool and suspenseful flick. Some of my favorite scenes in this area are when he is able to escape from an electronically locked room as well as the way he gets a dial tone from a receiver at a pay phone despite not having any money.
Broderick’s character is in many ways identical to the one that he played in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at least with his technological smarts, but here he thankfully doesn’t have that annoying smugness as his initial cockiness realistically wilts quickly away the minute he realizes that he’s gotten in-over-his-head. I did however find it hard to believe that such a bright kid could get an ‘F’ on his biology exam. His character is described as being an ‘underachiever’, which is fine, but there’s a big difference between being that and being a complete flunky.
Ally Sheedy is fantastic and in many ways outshines Broderick, but it’s hard to figure that she would suddenly jump into her car, without being asked, and drive all the way from Seattle to Colorado on a whim after she gets a strange call from David. The fact that her character states that it took her only 3 hours to get there is a complete crock as according to Mapquest the distance between Seattle and Grand Junction is 1,122 miles with an estimated drive time of 18 hours and 9 minutes.
Dabney Coleman is good in support as McKittrick and nobody can exude nervous energy quite like he does. Yet I was disappointed that he isn’t seen more. As much as I love Barry Corbin I felt his general character was clichéd and boring and I wished they had simply combined that character with McKittrick’s and then given the part solely to Coleman to play.
There were also a few scenes that I felt should’ve been extended especially the opening scene where we see two members of the missile combat crew ordered to turn the key to launch a missile strike. One of them, played by John Spencer, panics and becomes reluctant to turn the key while the other one holds a gun and insists that he must. It turns out this was only a surprise drill, but it cuts away before we see what happens and we only learn about this later while it would’ve been more satisfying to have seen the complete scenario played out visually.
I would’ve also liked to have seen when the government agents storm David’s house and search his bedroom simply to witness his parent’s (William Bogert, Susan Davis) reactions. The film spends time introducing them and they are rather amusing, so it would’ve been interesting to get their take on the situation as it unfolded.
I also felt the way David and Jennifer find Falken (John Wood), the man who invented the military computer that David plays the nuclear game with, was too easy. I realize David gets Falken’s address from the computer, but it’s still a remote island that David has never been to, so how he is able to come upon the home so quickly without a map is questionable. I also thought Falken was too congenial with them as this was a scientist in hiding with top secret military information and no way of knowing if these two were spies or not, which makes inviting them into his house and opening up to them the way he does seem quite reckless.
The ending though is excellent and I liked how these kids didn’t have that teen ‘attitude’ nor is there any of that generation gap crap either. Instead everyone, young and old, works together to solve a mutual problem, which is what I liked about this movie the most.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: June 3, 1983
Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes
Director: John Badham
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube