Jonathan Moore (Anthony Edwards) is a college student in Los Angeles who may not have thrown himself into his classes, but has become enthusiastic about a pasttime held between them, the game of Gotcha! where paintball pistols are used to score points on the other players. He is never happier than when he is running across campus or hiding to ambush an unsuspecting fellow participant, though it seems his vigour in pursuit of the highest score would appear to be a substitute for something missing in the rest of his life: Jonathan cannot get a girlfriend. However, a chance to holiday abroad might change all that...
Although it seems as if paintball is going to take up a large part of the following movie, having been based on an actual campus craze - the contemporary TAG: The Assassination Game was another drawn from this - Gotcha! was more concerned with that old standby for thrillers during the nineteen-eighties, and that was The Cold War. Jonathan may head over to Europe, thinking he'll end up in France then Spain, but he gets sidetracked by a mysterious woman who proves quite alluring to him. She is the Czech Sasha, played by Linda Fiorentino at the start of her movie career (this was her second film released).
This was way before she got the reputation of being so difficult to work with that people seemed to stop asking her. Anyway, she did enjoy a cult following among those who liked their women assertive, which is why films such as this, to all intents and purposes a gossamer confection that shouldn't have realistically survived the decade, continue to hold a particular charm. Although it began as a teen comedy for its first half hour or so, the influence of James Bond was soon to be felt as Jonathan gets mixed up with spies; Sasha claimed she wanted him around because she enjoyed deflowering virgins (classy) but she actually has an ulterior motive.
That is to smuggle some top secret photographs, contained in an undeveloped canister of film, out of East Berlin and into the United States. Now, you might accuse our callow hero of extreme naivety to believe his new girlfriend wanted to travel behind the Iron Curtain for shits and giggles, especially as such things were in very short supply in that region at that point in time, but we have a plot to keep moving, and spies fool members of the public all the time, or so we are meant to accept. Thus Jonathan waves goodbye to his best friend Manolo (Jsu Garcia under his original screen name of Nick Corri) and before he knows it is being strip-searched by East German soldiers.
The poor sap thought he was in love. Meanwhile, we are privy to more information than he is, since we can see Sasha is also captured and strip-searched, but she has the advantage of not having the secret film on her, whereas the innocent Jonathan is lumbered with being totally out of his depth which works in his favour when he cannot tell the secret police what they want to know. Thereafter a collection of Cold War clichés plays out, with Checkpoint Charlie, illicit meetings and narrow escapes all making their appearances, though for a change the climax does not take place in Eastern Europe but back in Los Angeles. Interestingly, Jonathan doesn't especially trust the C.I.A. either seeing as how they are messing him about as much as the Communists, if not more so considering his heartstrings are getting well and truly plucked. One hint of the filmmakers' desperation is the soundtrack, not Bill Conti's material but the songs which include two Frankie Goes to Hollywood tracks and Thereza Bazar of Dollar trilling the theme; with a fictional band in this too, it was clear album sales were vital.