Follow TV Tropes


Film / Sneakers

Go To
Setec Astronomy? Too Many Secrets

Bank Secretary: So, people hire you to break into their places... to make sure no one can break into their places?
Martin Bishop: It's a living.
Bank Secretary: [glancing at the check she's giving him] Not a very good one.

Sneakers is a 1992 film directed by Phil Alden Robinson. Featuring an All-Star Cast, the film is a complex thriller about a team of slightly shady security experts who find themselves in a conspiracy about cryptography, espionage, secrets, and betrayal.

Martin Brice (Robert Redford) and his best friend Cosmo (Ben Kingsley) spent their youth hacking into computer systems and 'sharing the wealth': ten thousand dollars here, thirty there, and all sent to various freedom-loving (and somewhat anarchistic) agencies. Despite their precautions, the Feds catch onto Martin and Cosmo; Cosmo is arrested and goes to prison, while Martin — who was out buying pizza for the hungry hackers — flees to Canada, changes his name, and disappears.

Twenty-three years later, Martin Bishop is the team lead for the Sneakers, a team of security analysts who expose the weaknesses in the security systems of banks, corporations, and anybody else who'll cut them a cheque. This very disfunctional crew consists of:

  • Irwin "Whistler" Emery (David Strathairn), a blind soundman and hacker with a perfect ear for electronics and communications.
  • Darryl "Mother" Roskow (Dan Aykroyd), a conspiracy nut and phone phreaker par excellence, often works as Whistler's hands.
  • Donald Crease (Sidney Poitier), ex-CIA and security system expert, terminated because of his quick temper.
  • Carl Arborgast (River Phoenix), a college delinquent and gadget-master who seems to know everything about San Francisco.
  • And Martin Bishop himself, ringleader and fugitive.

Then there's Liz (Mary McDonnell), Bishop's ex-girlfriend. She's fond of "the boys", but wants no part of their crazy schemes.

Unfortunately for all of them, Martin's latest assignment soon gets them entangled in a situation that quickly makes them targets for every major organization in the world, and could lead to the downfall of civilization...

This movie features the following tropes:

    open/close all folders 

  • Air-Vent Passageway: In the finale, Martin tries to get out this way. It works excellently when getting in, but when the guards are actively looking for him he gets caught quickly.
  • Aliens Steal Cattle: According to Mother, anyway.
  • All Wishes Granted: Partway through, the team talk about what they're planning to do with their money from the big score. Crease wants to take his wife on a foreign vacation, Mother wants a motorhome, Carl wants a relationship with a beautiful woman, and Whistler jokes that he'll settle for peace on earth and goodwill toward men. In the event, they get in over their heads and lose the MacGuffin and the money, but gain leverage over their knowledge of the NSA's shady activities. As a result, Crease gets his vacation, Mother gets his motorhome, and Carl manages to score a date with Abbott's beautiful assistant, who is clearly flattered he asked for her phone number, rather than anything grand. Whistler takes great pleasure in asking Abbott, an NSA bigwig, for peace on earth and goodwill toward men, something he insists on as his wish - and gets a very grudging "I'll see what I can do."
  • Are You Sure You Can Drive This Thing?: Whistler has to drive a truck. Whistler is blind, and has to receive instructions via walkie-talkie. Hilarity Ensues.
    Bishop: Now you're gonna go down a very ... gentle slope.
    (Whistler clutches the wheel and screams as the van careens down a forty-five-degree incline)
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: The movie has no sex whatsoever, barely any on-screen violence, and no blood. The producers were concerned that a G rating would make people think it was a kids movie. So Bishop says the word "shit" three times during moments of crisis, Crease says "motherfuckers" when he loses his temper, one of the Big Bad's goons insults Crease with a racist curse word, and there's a reference in dialog to fellatio.
  • Beneath Notice: Carl dresses up as a gardener in order to sneak into the Playtronics headquarters. While he did arouse suspicion when he seemingly disappeared from the bathroom, the front desk guard saw him outside and lost interest (actually Mother wearing the same outfit as a decoy).
  • Big Bad Friend: Cosmo.
  • Big "NO!": Abbot's response to Bish's suggestion that he chaperone Carl's date. Played for laughs.
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Leroy Brown", sung at the Chinese restaurant. Also some elements of the Russian.
  • Blind Driving: See Are You Sure You Can Drive This Thing? above.
  • Blind People Wear Sunglasses: Whistler, one of the members of the titular "white hat" hacker team, wears sunglasses all of the time because he's blind. The question of why a man who is blind is on a hacker team is answered by the fact that Whistler's hearing is so good that he can listen to stuff like sonic sensors being active and specific dial tones that tell the rest which are the best lines to do "phreaking" with.
  • Blindfolded Trip: Martin is thrown into a trunk and taken to Cosmo's headquarters. Afterwards Whistler is able to work out where he went by asking him questions about what he heard and deducing from there.
  • Bomb Throwing Anarchist: Averted. Cosmo seems to be the genuine article. His goal is to use the black box to wipe out all bank records in the world so nobody knows who is rich or poor.
  • Book Ends: The movie begins with Marty and Cosmo using their hacking skills to arrange Involuntary Charity Donations for politicians they disapprove of, and ends with a news report suggesting that Marty is at it again.
  • Boxed Crook: Martin, when approached by Gordon and Wallace.
  • Brick Joke
    • At the party Carl says "I'd like to have a deep relationship with a beautiful woman who melts from the very first time our eyes meet." At the end of the film he meets a beautiful NSA agent who is impressed by him and gives him her phone number.
    • When Martin has his first chat with Cosmo, Cosmo asks him "Who's gonna change the world? Greenpeace?". At the end of the movie, some of the money raided from the Republican Party is given to Greenpeace.
  • Broken Aesop: Part of the movie's core message is that the box is too powerful for anyone to have, due to all of the evil people could do with it. Well, except for the heroes, who use it to bankrupt the Republican Party, see Involuntary Charity Donation below.
  • Call-Back: After the team steals the black box, they have a party to celebrate. During the party they talk about what they're going to do with the money they'll be paid: Crease wants a vacation with his wife, Mother plans to buy a Winnebago, Whistler desires peace on Earth, etc. At the end of the film they demand certain things from the NSA in return for the box: the same things they had mentioned at the party.
  • Cannot Kill Their Loved Ones: Cosmo, unwilling to kill his former friend Bishop, finds a loophole.
    Bishop: You gave your word.
    Cosmo: I cannot kill my friend. [to henchman] Kill my friend.
  • Check, Please!: At the end of the "computer date." (Odd, since they're still at the restaurant at closing time, and presumably would have been given the check long ago.)
  • Chekhov's Gun: Mother's shell case for the Little Black Box that he gives Martin to use as "practice" for the recovery of the Black Box from Cosmo's office. Martin uses it to trick Cosmo at the end.
  • Choke Holds: Dick Gordon knocks out Bishop with a sleeper hold. In contrast to the repeated Tap on the Head he's been given up to this point, it's an act of mercy.
  • Chummy Commies: Gregor is an old friend of Martin's and an ambassador-slash-spy for Russia, and the USSR before then. He helps Martin identify the men hunting him and offers him protection at the embassy before being murdered.
  • Compromising Call: Martin is using an Air-Vent Passageway inside an enemy-controlled building. A guard is moving along a corridor under him while searching for him. Martin's partner Crease calls him on his radio, making enough noise that the guard hears it and Martin's location is revealed. The guard starts shooting into the ceiling with his shotgun to try to kill him.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Mother
    Mother: Cattle mutilations are up.
  • Cool Shades: Whistler wears them constantly. Avoids the incongruence of Sunglasses at Night by explicitly pointing out he's blind.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: To the rest of the world, the heart of the Mafia's financial operations (and Cosmo's secret base for crashing the world economy) is just the headquarters of the PlayTronics toy company. It would be much more convincing if the security wasn't so obvious.
    Bish: Toy company my ass. That's laser fencing.
  • Crash in Through the Ceiling: Carl does this at the climax to rescue Bishop and Liz from Cosmo and his men.
  • Crazy Homeless People: Subverted; Martin encounters one saying "The government took my home!" outside the building where he's going to meet the NSA agents. Martin points at an election poster for the current President and says, "Tell it to him." Later when Martin and Crease realise they've been conned, they race back to the building and find it in the process of being demolished.
    Crease: Oh Marty, you didn't fall for that one did you?
    Homeless Guy: The government took my home!
  • Cutting the Knot: When faced with a keypad lock on a door, Martin asks his Mission Control how to get past it. We see him listening and nodding to a seemingly lengthy explanation. Then he kicks in the door.
    Bishop: It worked.
  • Cyberpunk: This film is very, very Cyberpunk, just without the Chrome (Some of the gadgets are sophisticated enough that they delve into Cassette Futurism, if that).
  • Dating Service Disaster: Invoked Trope. The protagonists hack a matchmaking service to set up a blind date between Liz and one of Playtronics's employees in order to steal his identity. The results are predictably disastrous, and in fact cause Cosmo to figure out that it's a setup.
  • Death Glare: Donald Crease, a black man, gives one to a security cop who refers to him as "Midnight."
  • A Dick in Name: As thrown at Agent Dick Gordon by Marty:
    Gordon: We try to break the other fella's codes. We're the good guys, Marty.
    Martin: I can't tell you what a relief that is, Dick.
    • Phil Alden Robinson said in the DVD commentary that Timothy Busfield's character was named "Dick" just to use this trope.
  • Diplomatic Cover Spy: Gregor is a Russian agent (originally for the KGB, now for one of its successors) working undercover as a diplomat.
  • Disability Superpower: Whistler, who's blind and has incredibly sharp hearing. His character is based largely on real-life blind phone phreak and hacker Joe "Joybubbles" Engressia, who did have hearing that good.
  • Double Caper: The entire plot takes this form.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Cosmo is this to the local Mafia families. As far as they know, he's just their IT department. He, however, considers it "just my day job," and is still the same political radical he was in college, now working to crash the entire world economy.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock
  • Earpiece Conversation: Marty's conversation with Dr. Rhyzkov, as prompted by everyone else.
    Whistler (over headset): And give him head whenever he wants.
    Bishop (to distraught mistress): And give, whenever he wants. Be a...beacon to him.
  • Enhance Button: Occurs at least twice: during the surveillance of Janek's office and the PlayTronics building.
  • Evil Is Petty: Cosmo does this when Marty denounces his plan to use the box to destabilize the world's economy. Cosmo then uses the box to hack into the FBI's database, connecting Marty's current alias to his old criminal records and thus ensuring his imminent arrest.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Invoked when the gang discovered the NSA is a fake as it takes Carl just a few minutes checking the phone book to discover the NSA doesn't even operate out of Oakland.
  • Fair for Its Day: The page quote implies that the group's chosen profession paid poorly, but is considered a lucrative career in the Internet age. The pay was respectable even when the movie was made, but the importance of Information Security far less well known by the public at the time.
  • Fakin' MacGuffin: At the end of the film, the villain ends up with an empty duplicate of the casing containing the MacGuffin, while Marty gives the real casing to the NSA — but only the casing, keeping the MacGuffin itself.
  • False Flag Operation: Marty isn't being blackmailed by the NSA, but by former agents now working for Cosmo.
  • False False Alarm: During the bank break-in at the beginning, the team deliberately sets off a fire alarm. When the guard calls for help, Whistler (who has taken over the phone system) cons him into thinking it's a false alarm so the rest of the team can carry out the mission.
  • False Reassurance: "I cannot kill my friend... (to goons) Kill my friend."
  • Familiar Soundtrack, Foreign Lyrics: The resturant that Liz meets Werner Brandis in has a band performing a Chinese-language version of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
  • Foreshadowing: Early in the film, a security guard is watching Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. Pay attention to the brief piece of audible dialogue:
    Vargas: I looked in that box, just now. [disbelievingly] There wasn't anything there.
    • The main title sequence makes use of anagrams to introduce the writers, the director, and Redford. An anagram plays an important role at the end of the first act.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Neither Bish nor Liz is particularly happy to see Gregor. The movie does an excellent job setting him up as an old associate of Bish's, and not well liked. Kind of sleazy, entirely Russian, totally a spy.
    Gregor: New title. "Cultural Attaché". Last few years has been very confusing for people in my line of work.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Dr. Rhyzkov calls Janek "what a dick" in a truly vulgar manner. But does so in untranslated Czech, so no sweat. It also leads to a dissonance with the overall Avoid the Dreaded G Rating strategy undertook in late stages of production.
  • Got Volunteered: Liz on the blind date. See Why Are You Looking at Me Like That?
  • Head-Tiltingly Kinky: Marty is watching Janek (who's in his apartment) with a camera. Janek's girlfriend comes in, and as they start making out, we hear her tell Janek, "Let's do what we did in Mexico City!" Marty tilts his head and mutters, "I didn't know you could do that in Mexico City."
  • Helium Speech: Carl at the party, much to the amusement of the others.
    Carl: I'd like to have a deep relationship with a beautiful woman who melts from the very first time our eyes meet.
    Bishop: You're not getting paid that much, Carl.
    Carl: Well, you know, someone like Liz.
    Bishop: Definitely not getting paid that much.
  • Hiding in Plain Sight: Bonus points for it being a blind man who does 'see' the MacGuffin (see Rewind, Replay, Repeat).
  • Hollywood Encryption: Averted. While the MacGuffin is entirely fictional, if something did what it could do, it would be able to slice through virtually any modern encryption. The description of how cryptology works is dead-on accurate — Len Adelman, cocreator of RSA (public-key) encryption, consulted on the movie. The visual representation, on the other hand, is baloney.
  • Hollywood Hacking
    • Averted for the most part. The Sneakers' normal job is a genuine tiger team, and their methods of hacking — both the computers and the social engineering — are accurate. Certain other things portrayed in the film, like the Phone-Trace Race, are less so.note 
    • Cracking RSA encryption might let you read people's mail, but it won't necessarily let you break into computer systems.
  • Hostage for MacGuffin: Cosmo demands the box in return for Liz.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When Carl demands to see Elena and Janek making out (see Head-Tiltingly Kinky above), Crease tells him, "Grow up." A moment later, Crease asks Marty to do the same thing.
  • I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You: Some DVD boxes use this as the film's tagline, although no one in the film actually uses it.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: When Elena is trying to convince Janek to have sex with her, he says he has to work, so she opens up her shirt to show her bra, and declares, "I give you something to work, baby", which finally convinces him.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Martin's improvised swindle of Janek's wife involves him "letting her know" of the man's indiscretions and warning her that Janek is pretty regretful... and furthermore, a similar case he dealt with had the wife confronting the husband the man committing a murder-suicide out of grief. So, best to know... and then pretend to not know (and help Janek)... you know?
  • I Read It for the Articles: In Whistler's Establishing Character Moment, we see that he's been reading the Braille edition of Playboy.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: Cosmo utters it via loudspeaker after he finds out Bishop has stolen the blackbox. It's a credible statement given that one of his henchmen was just moments away from shooting Bish.
  • Insult Backfire: Delivered indirectly by the Big Bad, but with the insultee present.
    Cosmo: I'm sorry if he hurt you. I'm afraid Wallace doesn't like you very much.
    Martin Bishop: You oughta have that guy checked for rabies.
    Cosmo: Rabies occurs only in warm-blooded animals.
  • Involuntary Charity Donation: In his younger days Martin gave $25,000 of the Republican Party's money to the Black Panthers, and "Richard Nixon" gave to the National Association to Legalize Marijuana. At the end of the film the Republican National Committee is missing all their money and Amnesty International, Greenpeace and the United Negro College Fund report record anonymous donations.
  • Ironic Echo
    • Martin and Cosmo's reunion as adults, in Cosmo's office. Actually a chain of Ironic Echoes, as the first line is a throwback to the prologue so we know who's speaking.
    Cosmo: Pain? Try aspirin.
    [...and after things don't go well...]
    Cosmo: Pain? Try prison.
    • During the party, the group details what they would like to do with their money. They use these aspirations to blackmail Abbott and the NSA in the end.
  • I Was Never Here: "What's really important is that none of this ever happened. This box doesn't exist." Bonus points in that it was uttered by the trope namer.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: Carl dresses as a gardener to get inside the Playtronics building by pretending to need to use their bathroom. The guard gets suspicious at how long he's in there and goes to report it, but calls it off when he sees the gardener back at work (actually Mother in an identical uniform).
  • Just Like Robin Hood: Martin bookends the film by stealing all of the money from the Republicans and Cosmo's organization and giving it to charitable organizations.
  • Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club: Cosmo's Covert Group with Mundane Front — Playtronics: "The Future Of Toys" — would be a lot more convincing if it wasn't built like a fortress.
    Bishop: Toy company my ass. That's laser fencing. There's high voltage on the perimeter. The whole building says, "Go Away."
  • Lie Detector: Mother's voice stress analyzer, though he takes pains to point out it's not even remotely perfect, but good enough for their purposes. It helps significantly that Abbot is a terrible liar.
  • Meaningful Background Event: When Buddy and Dick toss Martin out of their car after the meeting with Cosmo, Alcatraz is visible in the background, signalling the criminal mess Martin is now in.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: The theft of a black box and the murder of its creator → a plot to cause the collapse of the world economy.
  • Mission Control: Martin and Carl tend to go in the field, while Crease, Whistler, and Mother play peanut gallery.
  • Moon-Landing Hoax: Mother gives us this quote while getting Martin ready.
    Mother: Okay, boss, this LTX-71 concealable mike is part of the same system that NASA used when they faked the Apollo Moon landings. They had the astronauts broadcast around the world from a sound stage at Norton Air Force Base in San Bernadino, California. So it worked for them, shouldn't give us too many problems.
    Martin: Thanks.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: James Horner's score at the climax of the movie ("The Escape/Whistler's Rescue" on the soundtrack album) makes a blind man trying to drive a truck across a parking lot sound like a miracle on par with E.T. levitating the kids' bikes over the police roadblock. And you get to hear it again during the end credits track.
  • Mundane Wish: A non-magical version appears when the team is negotiating with the NSA for the box.
    Carl: I just want her telephone number.
  • Murder By Proxy: Demonstrated helpfully by Cosmo. "I cannot kill my friend. Kill my friend."

  • New Era Speech: Cosmo tries to bring Martin around with one on the rooftop.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Martin and Cosmo appear to be quite heavily inspired by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, respectively.
  • No Guy Wants an Amazon: Inverted. Upon being offered anything they want in exchange for covering up the NSA's role in this affair, Carl asks for the phone number of the hot NSA chick holding him at gunpoint. She's so flattered she gives it to him.
  • No Indoor Voice: Bernard Abbot, brought to you by James Earl Jones.
  • Nothing Personal: When Marty figures out what SETEC Astronomy really stands for, Crease doesn't allow Liz to leave, as she's the only one who knew Marty's secret, and he invokes this trope. She's not happy.
  • Oh, Crap!: A subtle one, but Bish realizes he has completely fucked the mood of the party by talking about his past.
    Bish: I went out for pizza. Then I went to Canada. I was lucky, he wasn't.
    Whistler: Did he ever forgive you?
    Bish: I hope so. He died in prison.
    Everyone: [awkward stare] [except Whistler, who sniffs the cheese. because he's blind]
    • Bish has another freakout when he's trying to use Brandis's recorded voice to get past the security.
    Tape: [at 2x speed] himynameiswernerbrandismyvoiceismypassportverifyme
    Computer:' "Too fast, please speak slower".
  • One-Word Title: Team Title and Protagonist Title.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Used in-universe by Crease to signal to Bish that something is wrong. "MARTIN! TELEPHONE! ... IT'S YOUR MOTHER." Given Bish is a wanted criminal who's talked to no one in decades...
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Gregor. Not all the time, mercifully, but there are brief moments when it's audible.
    • Cosmo, too. Ben Kingsley is an incredible actor, but his American accent in this is...less than convincing.
  • "Open!" Says Me: A numeric keypad doorlock is defeated by kicking the door open. I mean, a door is only as strong as its deadbolt.
  • Open Sesame: "Hi. My name is Werner Brandes. My voice is my passport. Verify me."
  • Phone-Trace Race: The heroes set up this elaborate multi-hub "fence" between their call location and the NSA before calling the government agency in order to negotiate for the MacGuffin. In the space of three minutes the NSA trackers are almost at their door, but they manage to disconnect before they are discovered... or so they think.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Wallace to Bishop with a pistol (x2), Bishop to Wallace with a pistol, Crease to 2 Mooks with a shotgun.
  • Playful Hacker: The entire team. This is one of the few films to really catch the feel of actual hackery... namely in that computer wizardry is only part of the job; there's a significant social engineering aspect that isn't depicted nearly as adeptly in most hacker representations in cinema. Needless to say that this is a favorite of many hackers and geeks of various stripes because it gets almost everything right (and what isn't right is either necessary for the plot, or the real thing would be much too slow/boring to show onscreen).
    Carl: It is amazing what fifty bucks will get you at the County Recorder's office. {unfurling a roll of paper:) Playtronics corporate headquarters, the complete blueprints.
    Bishop: Not bad. Not bad, Carl! — Where'd you get the fifty bucks?
    Carl: Took it from Mother's wallet.
    Bishop: Good.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Playtronics goon that calls Crease "Midnight". Crease beats the crap out of him in retaliation.
    Crease: Did I ever tell you why I left the CIA?
    Mother: ... no?
    Crease: My temper.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Crease: Motherfuckers mess with me, I'll split your head!
  • Protagonist Title: It's a Team Title.
  • Punk in the Trunk: Martin is knocked out and stuffed in a trunk when going to and from the criminals' headquarters. He later relies on what he heard during the trip to figure out where he was taken.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: While Martin and Gregor are inside the Russian embassy's limousine. When the police car pulls up behind the limousine, Gregor tells his driver in Russian to pull over.
  • Reconstruction: Of the cyberpunk genre, thanks to Shown Their Work.
  • Recorded Spliced Conversation: Playtronics headquarters uses voice keys to unlock doors. The hacker team sets up one Playtronics employee on a blind date with their accomplice, Liz, and she transmits the entire conversation back to the team. They cut and splice the recording into a copy of the voice key, which works to get one of them into Playtronics.
  • Red Herring: And yes, Communism is one of them.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat: The protagonists repeatedly watch a videotape of Janek in his office, with a woman who's in the room saying "I leave message here on service, but you do not call," each time. Finally they catch up to what Whistler figured out almost immediately - since Janek uses a phone message service, he doesn't need an answering machine, so the answering machine on his desk must be the Little Black Box.
  • Rogue Agent
    • Donald Crease is a former agent from the CIA who uses his talents with Martin's ragtag group.
    • Buddy Wallace is a villainous version working for Cosmo.
  • Say My Name: The moment Cosmo opens the case and realizes he's been had.
    Cosmo: MARTY!!!!
  • School Grade Hacking: This is how Carl became the youngest member of Martin Bishop's team. While testing security at a school, they caught him hacking into the system in an attempt to change his grade.
  • Scrabble Babble: Martin attempts to play "scrunchy".
  • Shipper on Deck: At the reception after Janek's lecture, Gregor is overjoyed to see Martin and Elizabeth there, as he thinks this means they're back together.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Martin dodges arrest because he's out picking up late-night pizza when they're raided. Redford's character in Three Days of the Condor avoids being murdered because he's out picking up lunch.
    • While picking through Brandes' trash, Mother holds up a folded box of "Cap'n Crunch", as a tribute to famed phone phreaker John "Captain Crunch" Draper. Another reference appears during the Scrabble game, when the word "CRUNCH" appears before it gets turned into "SCRUNCHY".
    • The sequence where Bishop retraces his journey blindfolded is taken from the 1965 Rock Hudson film Blindfold - down to the "cocktail party" gag.
    • When young Cosmo orders the pepperoni pizza from young Martin he tells him to bring it "Shaken, not stirred", just like James Bond used to order his martinis.
    • The fact that the team includes guys whose nicknames are "Whistler" and "Mother" is a reference to the famous painting "Whistler's Mother".
  • Shown Their Work: Lots, but the most notable was having Professor Len Adleman — one of the three mathematicians who invented the RSA cryptosystem (he's the "A")— as a mathematical consultant on the film.
  • Significant Anagram: Setec Astronomy <—> Too many secrets (or COOTYS RAT SEMEN)
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: When Bish is on the job he's nothing but professional. When he's relaxing he dresses a lot more like the college student he never really stopped being.
    Liz: Bishop, you don't have a business, you have a club, a little boys club.
  • Smash Cut: A pristine view of Mary's residence is suddenly taken over by Martin and co's equipment to make the call to the NSA.
  • Social Engineering: Many varieties, from on-the-spot lying about being a private detective to a more meticulous and thorough investigation of a target (including sifting through his garbage — Truth in Television!) to find out the best way to approach him (which turns out to be give him a faked dream date).
  • Spotting the Thread: Martin is able to escape from Brandes's office in the nick of time, and Liz looks like she is in the clear until she mentions that this was a computer date. Cosmo, knowing Brandes himself, and that no computer program would ever match these two, realizes that this was a setup.
  • Stolen MacGuffin Reveal: Both times that Martin seems to hand over the codebreaker to an antagonist, it turns out that he really gave them something else (the answering machine that was being used as for practicing and the microchip that is the actual code-breaking mechanism, in order).
  • Storming the Castle: The climactic break into the Playtronics building to get the machine.
  • Surveillance Station Slacker: A security guard who appears to be in his teens is sitting around in a bank late at night watching TV. All of a sudden the fire alarm goes off and he panics, scrambling around trying to find the instruction book and figure out who to call. Martin reports this to the bank's directors the next day: "Your rent-a-cops need to be better trained."
  • The Syndicate:
    Cosmo: There I was in prison. One day I help a couple of nice older gentlemen make some free telephone calls. They turn out to be... let us say, "good family men".
    Bishop: Organized crime?
    Cosmo: Don't kid yourself. It's not that organized.
  • Take That!: Werner Brandiss, shortly after being described as the world's most boring man, is revealed to be a Barry Manilow fan.
  • Tap on the Head: Dick Gordon knocks out Bishop with a sleeper hold. ... This is the merciful version as Buddy Wallace has already beating Bish unconscious a few times.
  • Team Title: It's also a Protagonist Title, as the team is the protagonists.
  • Technical Pacifist: Cosmo. "Technical" in the sense he doesn't see any issues in toppling governments as long as it's done through computers and has no problem having life-long friends executed as long as he doesn't pull the trigger.
  • Television Geography: Averted. Most of the geography shown is quite accurate and reasonable. In particular the scene where they trace where Martin was taken can be logically followed to a location in the East Bay.
  • Trespassing to Talk: When the team returns to their office after recovering the Black Box, they find a team of NSA agents waiting for them.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Cosmo's motivation for acquiring the box by kidnapping and almost killing Marty.
  • Vanity License Plate: 180 IQ. Belonging to Werner Brandes.
  • Viewer-Friendly Interface: When they hack into the U.S. Air Traffic Control System, it immediately displays a radar map with points representing airplanes moving around on it. There's no main menu. They get a map right away, so that you can see what they just hacked into (though in that particular case, it's implied that they're not hacking into a ATC network, but a terminal, which makes a little more sense).
  • Visionary Villain: Cosmo at least claims to be one, with his expressed end goal being an anarchist ideal of destroying the social order that divides people into the powerful and powerless, the haves and have-nots. He just has no qualms about working with organized crime and committing murder as part of the means of getting there.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: The Mission Control sneakers use their collected knowledge, documents, and the internet to help Martin and Carl on the missions through an earpiece.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Cosmo. Topple "The Man", sure... in the moment where the Cold War was still pretty ready to be reignited. If something is still standing after all of the economical turmoil and the possible wars that it will trigger, then yeah, mission accomplished.
  • Who Shot JFK?:
    Crease: Now what are you saying, the NSA killed Kennedy?
    Mother: No, they shot him but they didn't kill him. He's still alive.
  • Why Are You Looking at Me Like That?:
    Liz: This man is not looking for "buff". The man who folded this tube of Crest is looking for someone meticulous. Refined. Anal. (the guys, including blind Whistler, turn to look at Liz)...What?
  • Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell
    • Gregor, a KGB agent working undercover as a Russian diplomat, feels this way.
    • Also true of the Big Bad in terms of his ultimate goal.
    Cosmo: Five years ago, yes, we could trust the Russians not to go running to the FBI, or if they did, we could trust the FBI not to believe them. But today... we can't trust anybody.
  • Wire Dilemma: Not a bomb, but similar nonetheless —
    Bishop: You're sure you know which one to cut?
    Carl: Yes! The alarm's always the green one.
    *snip* Darkness falls around them as the fire alarm keeps ringing.
    Bishop: Good, Carl...
  • You Are Already Checked In: Werner Brandes (who has a genius-level 180 IQ) knows that someone has stolen his ID card with the intent of breaking into the place where he works, and there's a (repeatedly shown) paper printout of who has entered and left the building. However, when he gets there he doesn't ask the security guards to check the entry/exit register and see if "he" is listed as still being inside the building, which would prove he's right about the break-in.
  • You're Insane!: Martin's reaction to Cosmo.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go
    Bishop: "[Y]ou gave your word."
    Cosmo: "I cannot kill my friend. [to henchman] Kill my friend."