Remember when paintball was a thing? You go out in the woods with a little gun and try to splatter all your friends with paint. Good all-American fun! Though I wouldn’t have put it past Hollywood to just make Paintball the Movie, they decided to take it a bit futher; mixing the fad with cold war paranoia. So in 1985, Anthony Edwards re-teamed with his Revenge of the Nerds director, Jeff Kanew, to see what happens when the game becomes reality. No more games, we’re talkin’ real spies and real guns in Gotcha!
Edwards plays Jonathan Moore, a college student studying veterinary medicine who loves to spend his time outside of class playing a campus-wide game of paintball they call “Gotcha.” I know what you’re thinking, this must make him the coolest guy ever, right? That’s sarcasm, by the way. Actually, he’s about as uncool as you’d expect someone who plays paintball all time to be. Of course, he’s still a virgin and is anxious to change his status.
Over spring break, Jonathan and his pal Manolo (Nick Corri) take a trip to Europe, despite his father’s objections. While in Paris, Jonathan meets an exotic Czechoslovakian woman named Sasha (Linda Fiorentino). She quickly takes care of that little virginity problem of Jonathan’s and the two become inseparable. Sasha claims to be a courier and convinces Jonathan to join her as she goes to pick something up in…you guessed it…East Berlin. For those of you who grew up in a world with a unified Germany, I’ll just tell you that in the movies if you’re picking up something in East Berlin…it can’t be good. In this case, Sasha runs into trouble and ends up planting the item, a roll of film, in Jonathan’s backpack without his knowledge. Now Jonathan is being pursued across Germany by creepy Russians. They follow him back to LA where the CIA is also after him…and wouldn’t you know, Sasha is actually a CIA agent. This leads to Jonathan trying to take out the spies as he lives out a real game of Gotcha on his own turf.
I’m sure many people would say that Gotcha! hasn’t aged well. I wouldn’t say that, but it is very dated. I’m not just talking about the whole East Germany / West Germany thing, either. I mean the opening sequence of the film has these college kids playing their little paintball game around campus with realistic looking guns. They run past students going from class to class, waving their guns around, and nobody bats an eye. Today Anthony Edward’s character would’ve been shot in the head with a real bullet, not a glob of paint, before the producer credit faded from the screen. So, there are some parts of the film that are unintentionally goofy these days. However, it’s easy to forgive these moments given how many legitimately funny moments there are in the script. I watched this film many times on cable TV during my teenage years and never thought of it as a comedy. The script is pretty clever, though. That’s probably the film’s saving grace since the whole spy story doesn’t have any real sense of danger and isn’t particularly exciting.
The film really does benefit from a talented cast, however. Anthony Edwards is good at doing awkward. He’s not the full-on dork that he was a year earlier in Revenge of the Nerds, but is definitely hanging out in lovable doofus territory. Somebody really needs to tell this guy that the reason he gets no dates could have something to do with the fact that he PLAYS FRICKIN’ PAINTBALL! Linda Fiorentino is also great in this film. To say her performance is sexy is a gross understatement. I can’t say how accurate her Czechoslovakian accent is, but who cares. Listening to her tell Jonathan how she likes “Wirgins” has a fun cartoonish quality. If they ever try a live-action Rocky and Bullwinkle movie again, she’s my choice for playing Natasha.
Gotcha! is unique little 80’s concoction. It’s an 80’s teen-centered comedy mixed with a cold war thriller. It’s thirty years old and it shows, but it still manages to be an enjoyable romp.