The end of adolescent innocence not as "a computer-enhanced hallucination," but as a prophecy that connects the battleground and the arcade monitor. Reagan's America is the setting (Spielbergian suburbia, the Soviet Union glowing crimson on the billboard-map overseeing the control room), John Badham promptly introduces the notion of machines replacing humans in the missile silos, a concept rather abstrusely noted in the lecture on asexual reproduction a couple of scenes later. The introverted high-schooler (Matthew Broderick) is a tech-head in with the nerds (Eddie Deezen is a mandatory sight); he hacks into the Air Force's computer system looking to play a brand new videogame and triggers a missile warning, World War III is just around the bend. The main joke has the Armageddon interrupted so that the whiz-kid can take out the trash, the government is not amused -- the paranoid elders (Dabney Coleman, Barry Corbin, Dennis Lipscomb, James Tolkan) insist on links to the Russkies, the computer meanwhile can't tell simulation from reality regarding "global thermonuclear war" and sends Red forces toward America. Badham's eponymous games include the glances of awkward yearning between Broderick and classmate Ally Sheedy, teenagers negotiating their burgeoning desire as rampant warheads threaten the planet around them. "We are at DEFCON 1!" In their introduction to the adult world, children are welcomed by the super-machine as long-lost creators and hear about humanity's extinction from a cynical genius (John Wood) hidden among dinosaur models. Fail-Safe, 2001, Colossus: The Forbin Project -- Badham dashes through them all on his way to a finale that ponders mutual annihilation by re-imagining the climax of Close Encounters of the Third Kind as an electronic lightshow. In this sage satire, warfare is boiled down to the inanities of tic-tac-toe, with chess as the alternative. Corbin's trigger-happy general has the Luddite punchline: "Just unplug the goddamn thing!" With Juanin Clay, Kent Williams, Joe Dorsey, and Michael Madsen.
--- Fernando F. Croce