It’s high time to get political, or at least political in terms of bad 80s political movies go. Well, sort of political. Gotcha is kind of a genre grab-bag of movies, in that it tries to be equal parts political thriller, coming-of-age romance and absurdist comedy. Yeah, it’s pretty strange.
We start out with Anthony Edwards being the king of some sort of campus-wide paintball assassination game that could only happen in the eighties. I mean, you needed that strange combination of casual neglect and reckless behavior that existed only in college in the eighties. Or, at least, movies about college in the eighties. The point is: you have a bunch of college kids running around campus with realistic looking guns, and no one really bats an eye about it. It makes no sense, but it’s a set-up we need so the finale works. Which is… well, I’ll get to that.
Having established that, we also establish that Anthony Edwards is a complete failure with the ladies. I mean, I KNOW, who would have guessed that a guy who plays with toy guns in college wouldn’t be a total babe magnet? We see his failure in play when he tries to ask out the girl whose sweater gets ruined by a stray paintball, and she (obviously) doesn’t think this is a great prospect for her. They even have Anthony Edwards complain to his actual babe-magnet friend (Manolo) and roommate about this in the middle of a college lecture. The only purpose of this scene is so he can say, “I’m never gonna get laid!” loud enough just when everything in the lecture hall gets suddenly quiet. Which is absurd, but that’s the movies for you. Although I kind of love that the professor, played to dorkish perfection, says, “As a future veterinarian, you should know that every dog has his day.” And says it in such a way as to convey, “Hey, I look like a nerd, my friend, but nowadays I am hip deep in the ladies. Hip. Deep.” The real purpose of this scene, though, is to let us know that there is a tranquilizer dart gun on campus. That may come up later.
Then the plot starts to move along: Anthony Edwards is traveling to Europe with his horndog friend for Spring Break. In Paris, they split up, as Manolo decides to pursue a Swiss girl by—and I’m not making this up—pretending to be a terrorist on the run. THAT’S HIS ACTUAL PLAY. Meanwhile, Anthony Edwards goes to some bar and has a Monty Python bit with the waiter.
I mention that because it is indicative of how this movie has no consistent tone. It gives us farcical comedy one moment, sappy romance in another, and deadly serious drama after that, whipping around between these poles. Seriously, this movie has Russian spies shooting real bullets at Anthony Edwards in one scene, and shortly after that he’s doing “Dave’s Not Here” bits with his parents’ maid on the phone.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
After getting his French drunk on, he meets Sasha, played by the alluring-but-never-quite-got-her-full-due-in-Hollywood Linda Fiorentino. They have a bit of charming interplay and end up in bed together. And then we’re in full on romance movie mode, as they have a montage of romancing around Paris, with really, really horrible music scoring it. This song will kill your soul. There’s also a whole bit where she “teaches him Europe”, and in turn he “teaches her America” which somehow involves slurping root beer floats. Given that—SPOILER—Sasha is really an American spy from Pittsburgh, I can’t imagine she doesn’t think he’s a total schmuck for this whole thing.
She convinces him to change his travel plans and go to Berlin with her (while Manolo goes off to Madrid alone), and off they go. She confesses that she’s a courier, so he knows he’s dealing with a low-level spy, and then they go into East Berlin for the real job.
Now, I have to admit the way Sasha pulls off this job is pretty clever. She finds an innocent-looking patsy, takes him into East Germany. Then she gives him a fake “package” (a strudel) that’s nothing, while slipping the real thing (a roll of film) into his bag without him knowing. Then she ditches him, having given him the code phrase for “GET OUT OF EAST BERLIN”, and lets him smuggle the thing across. With all his nervous energy focused on the strudel, he doesn’t even realize he’s got an extra roll of film and the custom agent thinks nothing of it.
And then there’s a bit more comedy: once he’s back in West Berlin, and confirms that with the American soldier standing there, he turns and screams “FUCK YOU!” to East Berlin, and the soldier deadpans, “I been wanting to do that for six months.” And then even more: he goes into a Burger King in West Berlin to get the real, American food he so desperately needs. He was in East Berlin for a day. ONE DAY.
Hhe goes to meet Sasha at their designated rendezvous, but someone else is there in her stead. Since he doesn’t know what’s going on, he gives the strudel to Sasha’s contact, and while she’s busy being confused, she gets killed by the Russian spies after him. He gets chased and shot at, but manages to escape by hitching a ride with a bunch of German punks who inexplicably love Randy Newman songs.
Back home, shit gets real as Russian spies are after him, and his apartment has been tossed by mysterious people, and he realizes he has an extra roll of film. He tries to talk to his parents, but they just think he’s on drugs. He tries to go to the CIA, but he realizes that Sasha is there, working with the guys who trashed his apartment. So, wanting to get to the bottom of things, he has Manolo use his LA Street Gang connections (WHAT? Yeah, just roll with it.) to send the CIA on a bit of a wild goose chase, all to put Sasha in a car with him while ditching the rest of the CIA.
And really, as much as I love a “we don’t need no stinking badges” joke, there’s no way a sequence where several dozen Hispanic gang members pull guns on a few CIA agents doesn’t end HORRIBLY for everyone. But we’re led to believe Manolo can flash a smile and say, “Remember the Alamo” and drive off, rather than end up with ten to twenty in a federal prison.
FINALLY, we get the point where Anthony Edwards and Linda Fiorentino are back on campus, with Russian spies after them. Anthony Edwards goes back to the lecture hall and gets the tranq gun BECAUSE OF COURSE HE DOES, and we’re at the point where he’s playing the game from the beginning of the movie BUT FOR REAL.
Seriously, the whole movie is an elaborate set-up for this bit that’s only the last five minutes of the movie. It’s like a complicated joke told by an eight-year-old, and it isn’t that funny.
He takes out two of the Russians, but the head Russian captures Linda Fiorentino, and there’s a tense stand-off where he’s got Anthony Edwards dead to rights. But then some fratty choad who almost got Anthony Edwards in the game-playing part at the beginning of the movie sees this from a distance. We’re supposed to remember this guy who looks like his picture could be in the dictionary next to “average white guy”, but he decides this is his moment. He takes out his paint gun and shoots Anthony Edwards, and the sudden appearance of a red splotch confuses the Russian long enough for Anthony Edwards to make his move and tranq the guy.
THE DEUS EX MACHINA IS THE RANDOM, FORGETABLE GUY FROM THE BEGINNING.
The CIA has caught up with everyone, finally, and there’s hints that they might be interested in Anthony Edwards once he’s done with college. Plus, despite figuring out that Linda Fiorentino is not a sexy European spy, but a sexy Pennsylvanian spy who had to have been dying on the inside during that whole “SLURPING ROOT BEAR FLOATS IS AMERICA” bit, they seem to intend to stay together.
And then Anthony Edwards shoots the girl-with-the-stained-sweater in the ass with a tranq because she told him to get lost. That is literally the final image in the movie: entitled misogynistic assault, played for laughs.
America! Fuck yeah!