All WarGames really needs to be better is a good script rewrite, a better director (apparently there are some leftover shots from when Martin Brest tried directing it but got fired), and more John Wood. The Arthur B. Rubinstein music is a little iffy too but has its charms.
And WarGames has its charms. Matthew Broderick is often nearly charming in the lead; he’s a teenage computer hacker who tries to impress a girl (Ally Sheedy) by changing her grades only to get them involved in… well, not espionage. Basically Sheedy helps Broderick convince a lonely computer it wants to play a game; she gives him the big clue, which is regular people love their children. Based on Broderick’s parents in the film—an oblivious William Bogert and a nagging vitamin-obsessed eighties working movie mom Susan Davis—it makes sense he wouldn’t know to try the programmer’s dead son’s name.
They play a quick game of Global Thermonuclear War, then Broderick has to go clean up after his dog. The computer keeps playing—they hook it up to a voice box but Douglas Rain it ain’t, though—and I know John Badham had seen 2001, watching WarGames, you’d think he’d proudly declare he hadn’t—anyway. The Feds figure out Broderick hacked them, kidnap him off the street, and take him to NORAD. Where they do regular tours.
We’ve already been to NORAD because the movie opens with this hook—General Barry Corbin, who’s so proudly ignorant and backwards he’s probably an accurate depiction of an Air Force general (when they have him on the phone with the President and you realize it’s Reagan, WarGames becomes absurdist comedy), doesn’t have enough men willing to kill Russian babies. Now, eighty percent will do it, but twenty percent are wusses. So Dabney Coleman says they should let a computer do it. Said computer, housed in Colorado at NORAD, is hooked up to an outside phone line somewhere in California so Broderick can happen across it.
Pretty soon Broderick’s not only got to convince the adults he’s not a Russian spy, he’s also got to find a way to stop World War III. Luckily he’s got his best gal Sheedy, though they have very little chemistry and their kisses on the cheek are the most natural parts of their relationship, and she’s got enough money and her own car to keep the plot going. Also Broderick is able to MacGyver his way out of any situation thanks to his hacker skills. Though he doesn’t know anything about anything except those things. We see his grades and he’s ever ignorant of things he’d know from watching any modern television drama.
Though it’s a little better than Sheedy, who seems to be around to decorate and be decorative.
Outside a flashing light sequence at the end, William A. Fraker’s (surprisingly Oscar-nominated but so was the script so whatever, she don’t lie, cocaine) cinematography is fairly tepid, which matches Badham’s direction. Tom Rolf’s editing is not an asset either. Again, WarGames just needed a better director and a good script rewrite.
Broderick and Sheedy are fine. They both have solid moments, Broderick more but because they stumble upon how to make Broderick a movie star and occasionally repeat.
Besides the surprisingly effective third act and trying to figure out what computer programmer Wood is thinking when he’s acting so goofy, the most amusing part of WarGames is spotting the character actors in the cast. I’m going to miss a few because I don’t recognize their names just their faces but this movie’s got… John Spencer, Michael Madsen, James Tolkan (didn’t that guy ever have hair, sadly he doesn’t call Broderick a slacker), Jason Bernard, Alan Blumenfeld, Maury Chaykin, Eddie Deezen, Stephen Lee, and Art LaFleur. I’m leaving out a bunch of the military guys but it’s like, Michael Ensign from Ghostbusters (but not Raiders, so I’m confused). But the listed folks, those I’m sure about.
Oh. And Broderick’s joke at teacher Blumenfeld’s expense is great, actually.