Hostile Intent (1997)
Evil government goons. They're really a staple of the action/suspense categories, and done right, they're intensely believable; many of us have seen the evidence of the depths to which a faction of the monolithic U.S. government can stoop in response to an ideological agenda. (I say this after having lived in Southern Utah, where the Downwinder movement has gained impetus due to a declassified memo to President Eisenhower labelling the residents a "low-use segment of the population," and therefore acceptable to coat with bomb test fallout.)
When done right, they're intensely believable.
Hostile Intent doesn't do it right.
We open with a boogah-boogah card mentioning that by the year 2000 there will be a full billion home computers. The next one states that in 1999, the government will pass legislation requiring that the Clipper Chip, a monitoring system the government can access, be inserted into all new computers.
With that glaring unlikelihood as a given premise, we open.
Four men in fatigues and greasepaint trudge through a nighttime thunderstorm in the woods. We soon discover that these are computer programmers, playing paintball against a rival company. We also find out that they pretty much suck, as the rival company lays them low from hidden positions.
"Our" guys work for Mike Cleary (Rob Lowe), an obsessive ex-hacker now putting the finishing touches on Guardian, the ultimate privacy shield, demonstrably non-hackable. In celebration of the final working beta version, Cleary and his employees (you know the role call -- there has to be a bald'n'fat guy, a punk kid, and an improbably attractive girl who apparently got into computers because she liked hanging out with the most socially inept guys in high school) head off to the Dotcom Cafe to unwind, and to plan their next encounter with their rivals. It seems Cleary used to work for the rival Gordon, and is still pissed that Gordon sold Cleary's under-contract work to the Feds, so Cleary uncharacteristically agrees to the next paintball game to even some scores.
On the way to the playing field, three hours out of Chicago, their car breaks down on a secluded stretch. The first Good Samaritan along isn't exactly what they expected; it's survivalist John "Bear" Barrington (John Savage, looking very different from when I last saw him in Carnosaur 2), who belligerently agrees to help them get a new fan belt. In fact, he takes one carload back to his secret base (an odd move, that), where he and a survivalist friend make fun of their fatigues, snoop suspiciously in their paintball equipment, and finally give them the fan belt.
Not too long after, they reach the playing field -- three hundred acres ringed by a sheer cliff -- and the game begins.
And then people start dying.
Unseen snipers start taking out players. Obviously, the front-and-center suspects are Bear and friend, who're also out in the woods with rifles for some "hunting," but that suspicion dissolves when the friend also falls prey to a sniper bullet.
Much of the rest of the movie (buying research paper, movie review, and essays online on our website)
is exactly as you'd expect: the survivors of both teams, plus Bear, band together to fight the evil government agents who are trying to get their hands on Guardian. There's guilt on Cleary's part as his employees are picked off, there's something of a reconciliation between Cleary and Gordon, and there are more improbabilities than a winning streak in Vegas.
Observe: At one point, another team of three or so goons, under the characteristically polite leadership of Saul Rubinek, show up at Guardian's urban office building, shoot up all the drywall along with the sole on-duty employee, and try to get the Guardian program out of their system. Unfortunately, that scene actually started my brain working, and once that starts no plot point is safe.
Because if these goons feel safe shooting up a downtown office, why didn't they just attack there instead of playing this protracted cat-and-mouse game in the hinterlands? Especially because there's an entire other officeload of people out there who are unrelated to the Guardian program?
And then I thought, why did the government send maybe six or eight agents -- equipped with $25,000 "Infinity" palmtop "tricorders", but couldn't manage any air support for the on-foot ground troops? (In fact, the only vehicle we see is a suited-up black penis car that the two surviving government baddies escape in -- and you're not telling me that that's what the motor pool came up with instead of a troop carrier.)
And when the computer geeks start fighting back and scoring casualties of their own, why does the word "backup" seem absent from the goon commander's vocabulary?
The government agency in question is never explicitly identified (though the credits list a couple of people as ATF agents); in any case, one of the major saving tropes of the "evil agency" cliche has been ignored: That the agency is question is working alone, under its own warped agenda counter to that of the rest of the "good" government. In all cases, both the goon commander and Saul Rubinek identify themselves as working for the government as a whole -- as if gunning down civilians in a clandestine operation is quite obviously what your tax dollars are meant for, duh!
And just to make sure that we don't come up deficient with ridiculous plot devices, Cleary manages to reprogram one of the Infinity devices by poking at the circuit board itself. (Why do you think I call them tricorders?)
I suppose that director Jonathan Heap (Past Perfect) and writer Manny Coto (Star Kid, Dr. Giggles) thought they were being terribly topical in presenting a story of Evil Government vs. Privacy Rights Activists & Survivalist, but by the end it seems like the militia version of one of those fundamentalist features dramatizing the prophecies of the Book of Revelation -- a screed in which plot coherence is sacrificed to make an ideological point.
All I can say is, it was probably a good idea to make this one in Canada.
We got us an actor calling himself "Marlon Brand" here, folks.