Director: Andy Anderson                           
John Davies, Laura Lane, Matthew Sacks

There is a problem in movie making when it comes to filming a screenplay that is mostly or completely centered around a current fad or one aspect of modern technology. It's pretty obvious - in just a short while, the fad or that technology will be obsolete, and not only will that thing have been replaced with some other gimmick or scientific breakthrough, society's viewpoint on everything will have changed as well. As a result, we look back on those two Lambada movies as if they were made by madmen, and we giggle at how the high tech weaponry in Megaforce looks so goofy, as if those so-called professional soldiers were playing with children's toys in a sandbox the size of a desert.

I don't think there is any method to make sure (unless maybe if you are making a period piece) every little thing in the movie you're making won't look quaint (or worse) to future audiences, but I think there are ways It takes a lot to play "Punk #1" to at least minimize the dated feel. The most important, I think, is attitude. What you have to do is take the topic with just the right amount of seriousness. Look at Saturday Night Fever and WarGames; though disco dancing and 1983 computer technology have long disappeared from the real world, people still watch these movies today. The approach to these movies was neither campy nor ultra-serious - any of those approaches would have resulted in the movies today being unwatchable to the point of embarrassment.

Those previous two paragraphs are more or less the Cliff Notes for this review, boiling down all the reasons why I despised the computer thriller Interface into one basic explanation. It's not really the fact that the technology in the movie is of the TRS-80 level that bothered me so much, but the lame presentation of this now clunky equipment - as well as the lame presentation of everything else. This movie is such a mess, it doesn't even seem to know what kind of movie it is supposed to be. Is it about students taking their cyber-oriented Dungeons & Dragons games way beyond simple fun and games? It is an action thriller centered around a secret society composed of computer vigilantes? Is it a comic mystery about a couple investigating a murder in the vein of The Thin Man's Nick and Nora? (That is, if Nick and Nora were constantly pissed and bickering at each other.) Well, it's all of that, and quite a bit more. No wonder the manager at my local video store didn't seem to know where to shelve it, since I found it in the horror section. Though considering the ghastly results of this mish-mash of genres, maybe it was in the correct place after all.

All the events of the movie center around some college campus in Texas. (And yes, this was indeed made in Texas - has this state ever made any decent movies?) The opening sequence - a drug deal interrupted by a masked paint-throwing  prankster that has inadvertently tragic results - serves no foreseeable consequence in the future, except maybe to give Lou Diamond Phillips (in his first role, credited as "Punk #1) his S.A.G. card. The next day, we meet Rex Hobson" you see, ladies, you can hook up to my machinery through the male plug!" (Davies), a computer professor at said college, trying to keep order in his classroom. He asks the late-arriving George if he's seen Sidney. He doesn't know; in fact, I don't think we ever meet Sidney. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the college, some fellow named Bobby is making some money by changing grades etc. with his hacking. His friend Teresa is concerned about his hacking, but leaves it at that. Meanwhile, a friend of Bobby is cornered by one of the campus' football players (whose advanced age has left him with a severe case of receding hair), who wants his grades changed. Bobby's friend is saved by a passing female student, who gets her ass grabbed for her efforts. Later, Hobson chews out Bobby for not grading some papers - though why Hobsen would want one of his students to do that is not answered. Then later, the dean of the college uses his helium voice to call Hobsen into his office. The first thing the dean says is, "I just want to know what the hell is going on here!" Hobsen, speaking for the audience, answers, "You and everyone else!"

Fortunately, we start to get an idea of the plot (finally) at this point, though strangely, the explanation is provided by the supposedly clueless dean. Seems there might be some secret society on campus that's messing with the administration's computers. Though before he can explain further, he's called out of his office, and we are left somewhat hanging still. "How *do* you get your skin so smooth? My face just hates the sun..." Later (a lot much later than you'd both think and want), more pieces of the plot puzzle start falling into place. Seems that there is indeed a secret computer society on campus after all. Meeting in a disused campus basement room, the members of the society give themselves hip nicknames like "Manborn", "Olympius", and "Modem". They also disguise themselves with outlandish masks and costumes (a knight's full chain mail and a plastic mask, a dirty cloak and a mask completely made out of discarded crumpled pieces of tin foil, etc.), and their masks have electronic equipment that not only disguises their voices, but removes any possible emotion and acting ability these actors might have had ordinarily. 

Anyway, this society has just recently implemented a vigilante agenda, and they commence doing things like blowing up a prostitute in her hotel room (kind of overreacting, don't you think?) and killing that aforementioned football jock by electrocuting him over the phone lines when he takes a call (which may be ridiculous, but it provides a good unintentional laugh.) Not long afterwards, Hobsen finds out Bobby died in a car accident, and later in the day Bobby's widow Amy (Lane) Jeremy spoke in class yesterday - now it's her turn storms into Hobsen's office and flat out accuses him of Bobby's murder. Why? Well... it's never actually said why, but I think she suspects Hobsen because they happened to spend each day in the same location. Though before she can explain why she isn't accusing any of the other several hundred people at the campus, she hears a cop coming to talk to Hobsen, so she escapes through the ceiling. Yes. Later, she drops by Hobsen's home to accuse him some more, but before she can begin to explain her deranged actions, she hears the cop coming to visit Hobsen again. So without another word, she escapes again. If you're wondering if she ever gets around to explaining herself to Hobsen and then teaming up with him to solve her husband's murder, the answer is yes.... eventually, though. But since the plotting of that subsequent section is just as badly done as what preceded it, I won't be surprised if you don't care for any explanation.

There are so many places where Interface goes wrong - in fact, I can't recall anything of real significance done with a minimum amount of competence. Actually, it's possible that we might have been able to swallow a lot of these mistakes had just one key ingredient - which carries most of that previously mentioned attitude - been worked on, and that ingredient is the movie's characters. To put it quite bluntly, they are dumb. Really dumb. They never asking the glaringly appropriate questions for whatever situation they may be in at the time, which, if answered, would speed the investigation up quite a bit. Plus, they seem trapped in stereotypical clichés, like the detective who appears later in the movie (always wearing a trenchcoat) and constantly acts like an asshole for no appropriate reason. To make matters worse, none of the actors seem to be even trying to inject some intelligence with their acting; Davies, for one, gives such an incompetent performance, he can't even gesture or touch his face while talking in a convincing manner. The only thing he seems to be trying to put in his performance is some "gay" and a little Michael J. Fox, with bizarre

It's hard to believe this movie was directed by the same guy who subsequently made the critically acclaimed Positive I.D. The movie's tone is a complete mess. I think it's supposed to be a light-hearted mystery, but why are there several violent murder sequences, including some stomachs shot with gory shotgun blasts? It's just as bad when the movie goes for laughs; this is the kind of movie where the humor is at the level of showing students in class asleep or reading books entitled "Sexual Deviates". I won't bother to go into detail about the lengthy urination sequence, as well as not one but several instances of accidentally discharged firearms. But it's not just with failing to competently establish one kind of tone where Anderson fails in his direction. This is no "Marathon Man" - for one thing, Hoffman looked sexier in a towel Every scene seems to be shot either in one of Texas' seedier neighborhoods, or in quickly set-dressed interiors of abandoned buildings, resulting in every shot looking absolutely hideous to the eye. It also makes the high-tech computer sequences look cheaper than they are, though they were not much to begin with. In almost every scene involving a computer, you never actually see what the character is doing. The character behind the keyboard actually says out loud as to what he or she is doing with the computer. The complexity of hacking or computers in general is never even implied; these skills come across in this movie as simplistic and something that anyone could do, so there's no suspense, excitement, or even plain interest in these scenes. The best way Anderson could have portrayed the power of computers using this screenplay would have been to delete the word file the screenplay was typed up in.

UPDATE: Paul Becka sent this along:

"I Enjoyed your review of the truly awful film Interface. Some facts about the film: Interface was produced entirely by the film program headed by Andy Anderson at the University of Texas at Arlington art department. I was a student there at the time, but was uninvolved (I auditioned for the role of 'Nerd' or something but was turned down). The film was scripted, acted and initially directed entirely by UTA students -- essentially a school project. When the student director apparently couldn't see it through Andy (who as you know later directed the well received Positive I.D.) took over the job. The film is notable not only for the cameo performance of Lou Diamond Philips, but also for being the first film of the successful TV actress Lauren Lane ('The Nanny') -- credited here as Laura Lane, a name already taken when she joined SAG."

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See also: Robotrix, Terminal Justice, Year Of The Comet