Picks and Pans Review: Wargames

updated 06/06/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/06/1983 01:00AM

It's hard to imagine a better plot for a summer movie. A 17-year-old high school computer jock, while trying to master a new video game called Global Thermonuclear War on a terminal in his bedroom, accidentally taps into the Pentagon's missile-launching system and comes within a byte of starting World War III. Director John Badham, whose Blue Thunder opened last month, does the concept justice with this tightly suspenseful yet frequently amusing film that is in many ways as good as last summer's runaway hit E.T. Indeed, probably nothing short of a real nuclear war could keep WarGames from becoming one of the year's biggest grossers. The sets are spectacular in themselves, especially a replica of the Pentagon's NORAD control center that looks as if it alone should have cost $13 million—the film's entire budget—to construct. But Badham's biggest asset is Matthew Broderick (PEOPLE, May 16), who made his film debut this year in Max Dugan Returns and already has a Tony nomination for his role in Brighton Beach Memoirs on Broadway. Broderick carries the film comfortably on his 21-year-old shoulders; he is the perfect nerd-in-shining-armor. Co-star Ally Sheedy (Sean Penn's girlfriend in Bad Boys) is a more talented Brooke Shields, and there is some real heat in the exchanges between her and Broderick, though nothing little kids shouldn't see. The supporting cast includes the deft John (Slaughterhouse Five) Wood and Dabney (Tootsie) Coleman, who is as reliable a character actor as there is in films today. The only drawback is that the film's anti-nuke message seems a bit heavy-handed at times. It is hard, though, to imagine any message being more entertainingly delivered. (PG)

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