Def-Con 4 is a cautionary tale, sending a message that we would all do well to heed. And that message is that all you hot high school chicks who break up with their controlling douche bag boyfriends better think twice because the little prick could end up being the psychopathic warlord who runs the dirty survivor’s settlement that’s the last bastion of what passes for civilization after our world has been nuked into oblivion in World War III!
The torch that junior fascist Gideon Hayes still carries for J.J. and the lengths he’ll go to have her back are pretty much the only thing in Def-Con 4 that either makes any sense or is at all realistic. This is a movie after all that has an astronaut on a space station watching porn while his female doctor is giving him an exam. In space, no one can hear you whine about a hostile work environment!
But we all know that boys with the Right Stuff will be boys and while that moment is laughable, it isn’t really what’s wrong with the movie. In fact, as most people say, the first part of the film detailing the three astronauts watching Earth being destroyed and struggling with the loss of loved ones and deciding what ultimately to do, is its best. It’s what happens (or more accurately what doesn’t happen) once the astronauts come back to Earth and get mired in all this Gideon/J.J. break up drama, that leaves you feeling like one of the cannibal radioactive mutants we don’t get to see nearly enough of doused you in A.1. and got down to business on your meaty flank!
Following re-entry, one of the astronauts is dragged out of the capsule and eaten. One of the two survivors, Howe, leaves the other astronaut (Jordan) behind to look for help. As protagonists go, Howe is a spastic wimp for most of the movie, making it hard to really get behind his efforts to survive. Maybe the movie’s trying to show how every person is dehumanized in the post-apocalypse when Howe finally snaps and begins shooting people. If so, well duh! And it was only after Howe got his first kills that he became effective at battling the bad guys, so what was the point again?
But the evolution of Howe from nerdy apocalypse twink to Mad Max would’ve been more effective if we hadn’t been saddled with all this Gideon Hayes nonsense. Even when the movie addresses the obvious question (how did a high school tool get put in charge of anything), all it manages to do is to point out how silly the plot is.
Gideon is the son of a military big wig. He, his father, and others are on a helicopter with a bunch of satellite equipment bound for a military outpost somewhere. The helicopter crashes and everyone but Gideon, a soldier named Lacey and electronics expert Boomer survive. Boomer has a broken back and is paralyzed, but Gideon needs him for some password so he keeps him around and pointlessly torments him in what amounts to the movie merely filling time.
Why anyone takes orders from Gideon or chooses to follow him is unclear. It’s even more absurd when you realize that the time from the beginning of World War III to when the spaceship lands back on earth is less than two months. We’re supposed to believe that in less than 60 days Gideon has assumed control and/or created a survivors’ settlement and has a force of armed men carrying out his orders? When he was just a high school pud who got dumped by his girlfriend a few months before?
Howe spends most of his time either captured by a crazed loner (who he later teams up with in another inexplicable development since this guy was no better than Gideon) or as Gideon’s prisoner.
None of this is interesting in the slightest and Gideon’s convoluted scheme involving Boomer crashing the space station nearby so the onboard computer can be salvaged and the secret list of military survival stations can be accessed comes across as being so ridiculous (Why do they know the computer has this information, but don’t know the information itself? How is Boomer able to even use this equipment to remotely direct the station to crash, what with nuclear war having already happened and all?) it’s clear no one involved with Def-Con 4 really had any idea what to do with the story once the whole “astronauts survive World War III in space and return to Earth” element was finished.
With Def-Con 4 you’ll no doubt come for the awesome poster art. And then you’ll stay for the nicely done first act aboard the space station. Once back on Earth though, its insistence that a spurned high school lover turned fascist monkeying about with computer passwords, survival station coordinates and pointless mock trials is worthy of a such a set up, leaves you anxiously awaiting the detonation of the hidden nuke left on the crashed space station.
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