There is a great opening set in orbit (amid some quality budget effects shots of the orbiting satellite). The entire scenario is sketched with remarkable economy via newscasts telling about the outbreak of war that suddenly go blank and with the crew watching the graphic representation of US cities on a map as they are nuked. It is then that director Paul Donovan starts to propel the plot through a series of increasingly wilder turns. The wholly unexpected is prone to happen (with perfect plausibility one later finds) at any point like the moment following the crash where there comes tapping from outside the capsule and John Walsch is dragged up through the door by his arm; or where Tim Choate is captured by survivalist Maury Chaykin and there comes that wonderful throwaway moment when Chaykin takes the food he refuses to eat and tosses it down through the trapdoor and a faint voice replies Thank you. There is a breathlessly exciting scene where Donovan has all the principal characters sentenced to hang and Tim Choate is offered the chance to hang all the others in return for his freedom. Donovan is not afraid to take risks and create scenes that might seem potentially absurd the dialogue has a snappy wit and inventiveness, like the scene with Maury Chaykin asking what type of nipples and aureoles that the woman Tim Choate promises him has, which skirts potential risibility but actually works.
On the other hand, about two-thirds of the way through Paul Donovan paints himself into a corner. It is from that point that the film introduces the teenage tough that one can chart Defcon-4 losing its head of steam and running downhill, whereupon it dissolves into a standard Mad Max action scenario. Some tepid action sequences are offered up in the last few moments as though the film believed the genre mandated them. The explanations of the snatch from orbit and how a teenager ended up in charge of an armed camp are not entirely satisfying. Nor too does the script seek to follow the moral implications of Tim Choates willingness to hang the others was it a ruse upon his part or was he serious? it would certainly be interesting to see his explanations to everybody afterwards. Nevertheless, for most of the running time Defcon-4 remains a entertainingly inventive little effort of which everybody involved has reason to be proud.
Canadian director Paul Donovan has made a handful of other films. His only other ventures into genre material were Tomcat: Dangerous Desires (1993) featuring Richard Grieco as a genetically-engineered psychopath and as producer, writer and director on the sf tv series Lexx (1997-2002).
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