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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

WARGAMES: THE DEAD CODE -- DVD review by porfle

"Would you like to play a game?"

If this quote brings back pleasant memories of smarty-pants computer whiz Matthew Broderick making that big vein in Dabney Coleman's forehead throb back in 1983's WARGAMES, then chances are you'll find something to enjoy in MGM's direct-to-DVD sequel, WARGAMES: THE DEAD CODE (2008).

In this belated follow-up, another teenage computer geek named Will Farmer (Matt Lanter) crosses paths online with a secret government super-computer named R.I.P.L.E.Y. which is programmed to seek out and destroy terrorists by luring them into playing online videogames for money. Marked as a terrorist himself, Will becomes a fugitive trying to stay one step ahead of the feds while the increasingly ruthless R.I.P.L.E.Y. uses all the resources of modern technology to track down and terminate him.

As you might guess, R.I.P.L.E.Y. has been designed with just a little too much autonomy, which comes back to bite her creators in the ass when things get out of hand and entire cities begin to be viewed as targets. This time Colm Feore (STORM OF THE CENTURY, PEARL HARBOR) plays the guy with the throbbing forehead, while Chuck Shamata and Maxim Roy are a couple of project members who see the danger coming and try to shut the computer down before it can retaliate. There are definite shades of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY here when their characters discuss the matter in private while the crafty computer takes a tip from "H.A.L." and reads their lips.

Matt Lanter is bland but adequate when he isn't required to emote. As Annie, the girl who gets drawn into the situation and finds herself on the run with Will, Amanda Walsh is cutely appealing. Nicolas Wright is alternately funny and irritating as Will's slacker friend Dennis, whose character disappears from the film just as he's getting kind of interesting. And in case you're wondering if there's any direct connection between this story and the original, two characters from the 1983 film show up along the way. One is played by a different actor, Gary Reineke, who does okay although the original actor is sorely missed in the role. The other is--well, I won't reveal it, but I found his appearance to be a pleasant surprise.

I know roughly as much about "techmology" as Ali G. so I can't tell you how much of this is plausible or not, but it's presented in such a way that I pretty much bought most of it. Lanter's character isn't tied down to a home PC the way Broderick was back in '83, so he can run around evading government agents while still staying hooked into the system via his laptop and cell phone. On the other hand, R.I.P.L.E.Y. now has more up-to-date means of tracking him with public surveillance cameras, satellites, and scary military hardware at her disposal, which gives some scenes a nice sense of paranoia. The visual effects are generally well done, especially an exciting sequence in a subway tunnel and some explosive incidents involving a remote-controlled Predator aircraft equipped with missiles and other nasty stuff. (The bird's-eye-view bomb drop from PEARL HARBOR is duplicated early on.)

Director Stuart Gillard keeps the annoying visual indulgences to a minimum and moves things along rather briskly except for a few slow spots. As in the first film, the climax involves a battle of wits between man and machine inside the computer control center, with the lives of millions depending on our teen hero's madd puter skilz. It doesn't match the suspense of the original film and sometimes I was a little lost as to exactly what was going on, but the tension level is pretty well maintained.

The DVD is two-sided, giving us a choice between full screen (for all you diehard full-screen fans out there) and 1.85:1 widescreen. A commentary track features Gillard and Lanter chatting goodnaturedly about the film when they aren't caught up watching it and forget to talk. There's also a fourteen-minute "making of" featurette, a photo gallery, and trailers for THE ONION MOVIE, which looks pretty funny, and Uwe Boll's IN THE NAME OF THE KING.

The idea that R.I.P.L.E.Y. finds terrorists by luring them into a terror-themed online computer game (which appears to be on about the same difficulty level as Frogger) and then identifying them by their advanced terrorist game-playing skills doesn't make much sense, but then neither does a lot of what goes on in this movie. However, if you don't get too hung up on little things like logic, WARGAMES: THE DEAD CODE can be pretty fun to watch.

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