by Mel Valentin
"WarGames: The Dead Code," the direct-to-DVD sequel to the 1983 computer geek classic, "WarGames," is, as expected for a direct-to-DVD effort no one is really interested in seeing, derivative, cheap-looking, and ultimately, superfluous. With a formulaic, clumsily written screenplay by Randall M. Badat and Rob Kerchner, hack-quality direction by television veteran Stuart Gillard, and bland, unengaging performances, "WarGames: The Dead Code" will, at best, convince anyone who manages to make it through its 95-minute running time, to seek out and bask in the nostalgic glow of the far superior original. Then again, you can skip "WarGames: The Dead Code" altogether and revisit the original (you can thank me later).More a remake than a sequel, WarGames: The Dead Code follows a teenage computer hacker, Will Farmer (Matt Lanter). Farmer is over protective of his mother, Gail (Susan Glover), a researcher for a local chemical company (his father died years earlier under mysterious circumstances). Despite her (presumably) advanced degree, Gail brings back chemicals from work and stores them in a kitchen cabinet. When he’s not jerry rigging equipment to hack into an electronic network, he’s playing computer games with his best friend, Dennis Nichols (Nicolas Wright). After signing off a Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) set inside the Stargate universe, Will heads off to high school. On his way to Dennis’ car, his elderly Arab neighbor, Mr. Massude (Alberto Delburgo), stops him and asks for help with his computer.
"Yet another, unecessary DTV sequel to an 80s classic."
At school, Dennis tries to convince Will to participate in online gaming. Will, however, seems more interested in a (new?) student, Annie (Amanda Walsh), an implausibly blonde, implausibly hot chess wiz. Although Will doesn’t play chess or seems particularly interested in learning how to play chess, he manages to get invited to an upcoming trip to Montreal. Will gives in to the ethically challenged Dennis and, after “borrowing” money from Mr. Massude’s bank account, signs up for an online gaming site, R.I.P.L.E.Y. For a few hundred dollars, Will can play through multiple terrorist scenarios. After passing up “thermonuclear war” (yes, one of many feeble nods to WarGames), Will selects the “Dead Code,” a bio-terrorism simulation. To win, Will has to get to a body count of 100,000. He “wins” and, thousands of dollars in winnings and Mr. Massude’s arrest later, goes on the Montreal trip.
Little does Will know, but R.I.P.L.E.Y. is a super-secret, government run program created to ferret out terrorists. R.I.P.L.E.Y. is also an AI that’s been put in charge of handling foreign threats directly. Based on intel, R.I.P.L.E.Y. can decide when to strike and without additional authorization. With every coincidence sliding into place (e.g., Arab neighbor, snatched bank funds, access to chemical weapons, game playing proficiency), Will becomes a “person of interest,” closely followed electronically via surveillance cameras and on the ground. The head of the R.I.P.L.E.Y. project, Kenneth Hassert (Colm Feore), puts his complete trust in R.I.P.L.E.Y. Before long, Hassert’s men pull Dennis and Will’s mother in for interrogation and Will and Annie are on the run in Montreal. Just when things look bleak, Dr. Stephen Falken (Gary Reineke), the creator of R.I.P.L.E.Y.’s predecessor, Joshua (named for Falken’s late son), and head of the development team that created R.I.P.L.E.Y., appears to save Will and Annie from the government goons following them.
Despite the apparent connections to WarGames and, thus, presumably, the familiarity with the pitfalls of putting an AI in charge of military-grade hardware, the government bureaucrats in WarGames: The Dead Code do it again, if for no other reason than the need to have a storyline close enough to the original to warrant the “WarGames” title on the DVD case. Not to content to rehash the “wrong man” scenario from WarGames, Badat and Kerchner borrow everything else worthwhile from the original, to the character relationships and interactions, to the moral lessons and themes we’re supposed to get out of the sequel: putting too much faith, vesting too much power into our technological creations can and will have dangerous consequences, and no one “wins” when a global war gets invoked. And if that doesn't keep you interested enough, then the producers figure name checking Worlds of Warcraft, the Alien franchise (e.g., R.I.P.L.E.Y), Stargate, and FaceBook, will.
If you were expecting any of the actors from WarGames to make cameo appearances in the sequel, don't. Only one character, Stephen Falken, drops in to make an appearance (played by a different actor) and he functions primarily as a plot device to bring in the back story from the first film, re-introduce Joshua, and to add much needed dramatic tension, clutch his chest and stomach at inopportune times (don’t worry, swallowing one or two “miracle” pills perks him up almost immediately). Comparisons between the two casts don’t do anyone any favors. Matt Lanter is no Matthew Broderick, Amanda Walsh is no Ally Sheedy, and Colm Feore is definitely no Dabney Coleman. Lanter and Walsh are also too old to be playing high school students (he was 23 and she was 25 when WarGames: The Dead Code was filmed). The producers should have cast younger actors as the leads or set the sequel in college.And no, updating the setting from the Cold War of the original to the current, so-called “War on Terror” doesn’t make "WarGames: The Dead Code" any more worthwhile. The update adds nothing, context or subtext wise. Badat and Kerchner could have used a “loose nukes” scenario (with Russians as the obligatory villains) and no one would have noticed a difference. The references to the current Middle East situation and the creation of the surveillance state in response to the War on Terror is, at best, tangential, and, at worse, offensive (for being superficially handled). Then again, given how little effort or thought went into every other aspect of "WarGames: The Dead Code," it’s not surprising that Badat and Kerchner misplayed the terrorism and surveillance angle too, either by intent or by the lack of thoughtfulness ("Enemy of the State," released three years before 9-11 and the USA PATRIOT ACT was incredibly prescient in that regard).
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17571&reviewer=402
originally posted: 07/31/08 05:00:00