Times Staff Writer

“Gotcha!” (citywide) takes its title from a silly campus game in which students shoot paint pellets at each other.

The idea is to introduce the film’s 18-year-old hero (Anthony Edwards) as a Gotcha! champ, then swoop him up into some foreign intrigue in which the bullets become all too real. The spy stuff, however, is only an elaborate attempt to freshen up the old coming-of-age story with suspense and comedy. But “Gotcha!” misfires, not so much for its premise but because of the intermittent crassness that mars its development.

Director Jeff Kanew and writer Dan Gordon establish Edwards as a fairly obnoxious, definitely spoiled kid from an affluent L.A. suburb, then reveal that underneath he’s not such a bad guy and is decidedly innocent. On a Paris jaunt during spring break with his best pal (likable newcomer Nick Corri), Edwards is swiftly vamped by a gorgeous older woman of 26 (Linda Fiorentino, with a delightfully phony Czech accent), amazingly eager to relieve him of his “wirginity.” In no time Fiorentino whisks Edwards off to West Berlin, then involves him in some risky business in East Berlin. It’s just the beginning.


But along the way Kanew and Gordon display some lethal insensitivities in their humor. They treat Edwards’ parents (Alex Rocco, Marla Adams) as cretins and make fun of the Latina family maid (Irene Olga Lopez) for her poor English. Their handling of the by-now-obligatory skewering of the CIA comes across as petulance.

Indeed, the Gotcha! game itself is a turn-off, involving much gun-waving (which we are asked to believe is totally ignored on a busy university campus). East Germany, that bleakest of countries, is treated to some glib xenophobia. Ironically, Kanew and Edwards’ previous “Revenge of the Nerds” succeeded in part because of the compassion in its humor.

As is so often the case with broad satire, the key figures of “Gotcha!” acquire some dimension, but the peripheral people are treated as targets for jokes. Thus Edwards, who is well cast as an All-American preppie type, comes across as a believable youth who actually matures in the course of his incredible adventures. For the second time--the first was in her debut film, “Vision Quest”--the sultry, confident Fiorentino has played the cool young woman who initiates a teen-ager into manhood. She’s clearly ready for new challenges.

With abundant European locales, “Gotcha!” (rated PG-13 because of some sex) certainly looks expensive. As a thriller it has its moments, as a romance it’s sometimes touching, but as a comedy it’s too often a bust.

‘GOTCHA!’ A Universal release of a Michael I. Levy Enterprises production. Supervising producer Peter MacGregor-Scott. Producer Paul G. Hensler. Director Jeff Kanew. Screenplay Dan Gordon; based on a story by Hensler & Gordon. Camera King Baggot. Music Bill Conti. Art director Norman Newberry. Stunt coordinators Conrad Palmisano, Roydon Clark. Film editor Michael A. Stevenson. With Anthony Edwards, Linda Fiorentino, Alex Rocco, Nick Corri, Marla Adams, Klaus Loewitsch.

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

MPAA-rated: PG-13 (parental guidance advised, especially for preteens).