Anthony Edwards and Linda Fiorentino Star in VHS-era Staple in Search of Tonality.
DIRECTED BY JEFF KANEW/1985
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: SEPTEMBER 29, 2020/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
For those who regret not getting caught up with those 1980s video rental staples before the rental stores went the way of Linda Fiorentino’s career, one such film, her romantic espionage caper Gotcha!, has finally come in from the cold. How warmly viewers receive Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray edition of this one-time VHS mainstay will have to do with the current status of the collective appetite for such not-great-to-middling fare of the era. Admittedly, there is a certain ease of comfort with it. The film nor its viewers are asking anything of each other.
To what degree, though, does crummy dialogue, blah production value, wild tonal shifts, and lead actor Anthony Edwards (E.R.) as an eighteen-year-old sporting a full head of blow-dried blonde hair compensate for an actual decent movie? And, even if Gotcha! can’t rightly be called a decently made movie, should that be cause for dismissal? Like most any well-intentioned but poorly aged cinematic relic of the Reagan era, a big part of the contemporary charm of something like Gotcha! lies in its “terminally ‘80’s” veneer and underpinnings.
In this case, it comes together thusly: Take the basis of your standard-issue “horny teenager” premise, stir in a dose of evaporating Act I comic absurdity (an incongruous over-cranked car chase; a full-grown tiger in a cage as a visual aid in an undergraduate course), and then shift the whole thing into the gear of “spy-movie lite”. It helps that the production splurged on actual international travel to its key locales of Paris and Berlin. This alone gives credence to where, if anywhere in particular, Gotcha! ends up.
Actually, Gotcha! ends up in the exact same place it begins: the campus of UCLA. Students of the art of story structure will spend the movie wondering what plot twist will take Jonathan out of perilous East Berlin (where he’s dragged by his new older and classier paramour, Sasha, played by a pre-The Last Seduction Fiorentino) and back to the home turf of his school. When we first meet him, he’s revealed to be an ace paintballer as he partakes in the real-life phenomenon of the game “gotcha”. He’s Spider-Man-ing in rafters, hiding in trash cans, jumping from terraces, all in the name of not ever missing an opponent. “Gotcha”, he says every time. That’s simply during the opening credits montage, which also provides the earworm-y title song by Thereza Bazar.
Not soon after, we learn a few more key things. First, the school’s tranquilizer gun, along with several tranquilizer darts strong enough to take down the aforementioned tiger, is kept in a locked cabinet in an easily accessible lecture hall. Hmm… if you wonder if and how that will factor into Act III, you might just be a rudimentary-level screenwriter. (Fifty bonus points if you can convincingly articulate which genre or even what tone this film is attempting to emulate).
The other key thing we learn is that Jonathan, for all his paintballing acumen, is, to his great personal annoyance, still a virgin. Before long, he’s off to Paris to “to chase skirts”. (That is, in the parlance of his gruff, rich father). Here Jonathan (age eighteen) meets and falls for the alluring Sasha (age twenty-four), who we learn is a covert operative on a mission to obtain and deliver a macguffin to her superiors. 1985-level PG-13 boundary-pushing ensues, amounting to not one but two f-bombs, numerous sexual conversations and scenes in bed, and even a quick flash of breasts. Clearly the dust hadn’t quite settled on the big-screen permissiveness that dotted many films of the years immediately prior.
It might be helpful to remember that after director Jeff Kanew made Revenge of the Nerds (1984), this is how he upped his game. From here, Kanew would go on to make, among other things, 1986’s Tough Guys and 1991’s V.I. Washowski. Of those, Gotcha! is probably the best of the bunch. On the Blu-ray, Kanew provides a feature-length commentary track on which he shares his memories of making the film, occasionally cracks wise, and in fact acknowledges Gotcha! as his favorite of his own films.
There’s also a second, newer commentary by entertainment journalist and author Bryan Reesman. (Kanew’s own track seems to be ported over from a previous DVD release). Reesman is fully engaged with the material-perhaps too much so. From the outset, it’s very clear that this will be one of those mile-a-minute commentaries where the speaker rarely seems to come up for air, much less pause. If you’re game to keep up, the track is fun in and of itself, as Reesman is nothing if not animated.
Like most films of this ilk, Gotcha!, despite being a middling affair, has its fans. Those fans, assuming they’re not of the niche that still cling to their actual VHS tapes, should be quite turned on by this Blu-ray release. Though Gotcha! will never not look like a movie made in the ‘80’s (it is what it is), this is a clear A/V step up from its analog heyday. Though as the tagline says, for Jonathan, “his first time may be his last”, you now have the opportunity to meet up with he and Sasha at the Cafe Friedrichstraße anytime, in fine high definition.