Defense Play

Director: Monte Markham  
David Oliver, Susan Ursitti, Monte Markham

If you have been reading this web site for some time now, you have probably come to the conclusion that I am the kind of guy who is "cool" and "with it". Well, I must modestly say, I would agree with you that I am indeed those positive adjectives - at least when it comes to movies. There are a few things in my life that I have found myself to be hopeless or near-hopeless with, and one of those things is technology. It wasn't always that way. I can remember when I was in elementary school, I found myself king of a new kind of technology introduced to the school, and I continued to be king of that technology all the way through junior high. That technology was in the form of a computer, the Apple II to be exact. I took to that computer like a duck to water. I played all the various games the school had for the Apple IIs that they had, and yet I desired more. So I read all the books I could on programming games in BASIC for the Apple II, and I started to program my own games. I started small, of course, but as the months went on my games became more complex. I think I already told you in an earlier review about my "Mugger" game that I whipped up, which became a surprise hit among my peers. Later, I learned to program my own text-adventure games like the folks at Infocom games did with games like Zork and Deadline. One teacher didn't appreciate my games - or any other games - that kids would play in the computer lab at lunch time, and he would keep popping in the lab at lunch to catch kids playing games. To get around this, I programmed in my games a function so that with a quick click of a certain button when they saw this teacher come in, a graphics drawing program would pop up and make the teacher believe they were just drawing pictures.

Aside from that specific piece of technology during those certain golden years, I have found myself throughout my life to not be "cool" and "with it" when it comes to technology. Part of that comes from the environment I had at home as well as out of home up to grade twelve. In a number of aspects, my parents were very much behind the times. Unlike other families, we never had a record player in our home, and it took me until the third grade or so before I had the chance to play a record (of my choice) for myself, not at home but at school. (It was an Electric Company record from the school library, and my experience was ruined when the record player decided to overheat while playing the record, oddly just after the narrator on the record said the sentence, "The television is on fire!") I think I mentioned somewhere before that our family was one of the last families in our town to get a VCR. We also had a television set that could only go up to channel thirteen, and it took years for that hunk of obsolete junk to finally die and prompt my parents to buy a television that could get more channels. When I joined the television class in high school, all of us in the class not only had to work, when in the field, with cumbersome camcorders that were connected to a recording box you had to lug around with you, but when we were doing "in studio" productions in the classroom, we were working with studio cameras that shot only in black and white. (And we only had the technology to write electronic text onscreen in one font.)

All those years growing up with technology that wasn't at its highest level even back then make kind of a big impact on me. I don't have a widescreen television set, and I still depend on my old VCR to record Defense Playvarious television programs for me. And while I was a whiz on the old Apple II computer, my expertise on more modern computers is somewhat limited. I've spent very little time on Macs, for one thing. And while I know somewhat more about PCs, I am still limited on them in several ways; as I write this, I am still on dial-up, and I depend on a now long-discontinued software program to program this web site. I know I could upgrade both my entertainment center and my computer stuff, but in my defense I must point out that I'm on a limited budget. Plus, I have the fear that I would not be able to learn how to use the new technology I would get. So I am kind of behind the times. That is one reason why I picked up the '80s movie Defense Play, not just because of the nostalgia factor (I grew up in its era), but because the technology that the movie promised it was full of may be considered obsolete by many viewers, but for someone like me who is kind of behind the times would find it easy to "get". The story concerns recent graduate Scott (Oliver, Night Of The Creeps) who has just got a job at the local college. One night at the campus lab, the scientist father of his co-worker Karen (Ursitti, Teen Wolf), is killed by one of the hi-tech projects he was working on, and the investigation concludes it was due to neglect. Scott doesn't buy it, and decides to help his new friend clear her father's name, and also to clear the name of his army father, who was working on the same project. But as their investigation progresses, the two youths soon uncover dangers that even the professionals would find potentially deadly!

The first thing I have to do with my critique of Defense Play is to admit that this low tech geek in this high tech world found many of the tech parts of this movie not just easy to understand, but at the same time comforting. I remember a lot of this technology found in the movie, so it was a pleasant nostalgic experience to see it all over again. The opening scene has the sleeping Scott awakened by a friend dialing into the computer in his room (you hear the modem ring once - ah, sweet music...), and the text from his friend does not turn up on his screen lightning fast, but slowly. (Yeah, I guess it would be both easier and faster for Scott's friend to contact him by simply using the telephone, but the movie has to show that Scott is some kind of computer whiz, at least for this time period.) There are other pieces of technology here that may be considered dated today, but are fun to see again, like dot matrix printers (I used to have one.) The big surprise upon seeing a lot of this late '80s technology in this movie, and how it is used, is that it isn't as dated as you might think. In fact, if the movie were to be remade today, I don't think that there would need to be that much rewriting to update to today's technology. Sure, the graphics would be a lot flashier and fancier, but the same basic ideas would remain the same. In that opening scene, Scott could have a PC with a high-speed Internet connection, as well as an instant message computer program to get his friend's message. The use of Internet search engines could easily replace the cumbersome search through records written on old-fashioned paper that Scott and Karen do at one point, and get the same results.

I will admit that there are a few instances of the technology displayed in Defense Play that could only be believable if the movie were taking place now instead of 1988. The audio/visual recording capabilities of the remote control helicopters shown in the movie could not possibly be recorded on such a small space back then, even if the visuals look like those found on cel phones with cameras nowadays. But overall, the technology in this movie is both believable for the time period and won't be laughed at by audiences today. As for any other merit to be found in the movie, I did think that the actors were a bunch of likable performers. I will admit that I found Oliver hard to swallow as someone who had just graduated from high school (he was 26 when he made this movie), but he made up for that by making believable his character's determination while not becoming annoying. The characters in the movie also had some other likable and believable things about them, like the fact that Scott and Karen do not fall in love in the space of just a few days. But there are also a number of times when these two characters (and others) do some really stupid things. We are supposed to not believe that the police, guarding the campus laboratory, are not informed about its underground entrance (letting the protagonists sneak in.) We are also supposed to believe that when inside, Scott is able to poke around the lab's computer program easily without knowing anything about it before. When Scott and Karen subsequently make a noise and the security guard outside starts to come, they don't try to hide or exit the room from where they got in. And while the security guard heard that noise, he later doesn't hear the (louder) noises coming from the audio/video file the protagonists open on the lab's computer.

Funny thing about that computer file the protagonists open. It's a record of the murder that the movie's antagonist committed on Karen's father. Why then does the antagonist not erase this file until after Scott and Karen have viewed it? There is absolutely no reason why the antagonist should have saved this file when common sense should have told him to immediately erase it and cover all his tracks. I admit that I did find this character's stupidity amusing, as well as the various other character stupidities that come up during the 95 minute running time. But the number of unintended laughs that come up fall far short from safely labeling this movie as an unintentional comedy. Does this mean that most of the movie works? Sadly, that's not the case. Much of the time I found Defense Play to be a somewhat dull affair. A lot of that is due to the fact that I had seen a number of plot turns in this movie in other (and better) movie before. Will it really be a surprise to anyone as to what happens when Scott and Karen deliver a key piece of evidence to one of Karen's father's associates in an attempt to get help from him? Then there are the scenes that try to deliver the action. Some of this is attempted by using military stock footage, and you can imagine how exciting that is (sarcasm.) Most of the action is newly filmed, but it involves radio-controlled model helicopters. Whoo, small and flimsy-looking stuff slowly flying in the air is so exciting! (Sarcasm again.) If you're in the mood for some '80s nostalgia involving computers while simultaneously being given (good) action and tension, you should watch WarGames.

Note: Between writing this review and posting it, I finally got a new computer and a high speed Internet connection. I now laugh at those still stuck with old computers and dial-up access, because I am one of the beautiful people now.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Laserhawk, R.O.T.O.R., Terminal Justice