Thursday, June 10, 2010

“It's a moral imperative.”

So apparently one of the major gaps in my childhood was an incredible lack of 1985’s Real Genius in my life. This has been corrected.

So a teen genius graduates high school early and gets a scholarship to a fancy pants science school. He moves in, feels terribly out of place and meets his roommate, a free spirited genius who takes the kid under his wing as they work on the same project for their professor, a jackass working on a brand new laser that, unbeknownst to the students, is intended for military purposes. Hijinks ensue.

Mitch Taylor: Gabriel Jarret is our hero, a 15 year old scientific prodigy that gets a scholarship to a prestigious California school that is totally not an analog for Cal Tech. Anyway, he’s a fish out of water, but he finally finds a group of friends that he can relate to, but also a bunch of bullies (genius bullies). Likable enough, but kind of bland.

Chris Knight: A young Val Kilmer chews up the scenery and completely overshadows his new roommate Mitch. Chris is an irreverent academic rebel who refuses to submit to the Man and play by the rules, which explains why he’s kind of old to be a college student (making him sort of like an 80’s genius version of Van Wilder, I guess). Anyway, he gets the lion’s share of the quality dialogue and jokes and is the badass of the film.

Jordan: Michelle Meyrink plays the obligatory love interest, a shy, reclusive and particularly eccentric girl that Mitch takes a liking to.

Professor Jerry Hathaway: William Atherton (the guy who played a jerk in Ghostbusters and Die Hard) plays, guess what? A jerk in this movie. This time around, he’s the professor on campus that’s basically using his students to develop a high powered military grade laser for him so he can get rich off the government contract he has. Typecast or not, the guy’s just so damn good at being an asshole.

Lazlo Hollyfeld: Jon Gries plays the eccentric homeless-looking guy who lives in Mitch & Chris’ closet. That goes from a simple running gag to a reveal that he’s a former genius student at the school who snapped at some point, becoming a wild-eyed recluse living in the dorm’s boiler room.

Kent: Robert Prescott is a student who uses underhanded tactics and asskissing to get in good with Prof. Hathaway. He is a genius who happens to be a bully, though Chris & co. exact a lot of comical revenge on him, like rigging his teeth to be able to receive transmissions from Chris who’s pretending to be God sending messages to Kent.

Directed by Martha Coolidge, the film is a competently shot 80’s comedy with a dose of special effects to reflect the wacky science going on (mostly lasers, but also stuff like somehow flash-freezing the hallway of a dorm in order to skate around). Things move at a nice clip, too, aided by the fact that there are four (I counted) montages scattered throughout. That’s actually a bit excessive, but doesn’t hurt the movie.

Screenplay/Story credits go to Neal Israel, Pat Proft (from the Hot Shots movies and also having the dubious honor of being one of the writers for the Star Wars Holiday Special. A word of advice: don't watch it), and Peter Torokvei. Like any self-respecting 80’s comedy, its full of one liners and questionable science and the occasional plot details that don’t hold up to close inspection. For instance: what is stopping the military from simply building another satellite if the heroes destroy the first? They’ve got the plans.

Anyway, to the writers’ credit, they avoid making the nerds freakishly maladjusted misfits unable to communicate with other human beings without resorting to stereotypically dense science dialogue all the time. They talk like normal quirky characters in a screwball 80’s comedy, only smarter, which is far better than *coughBigBangTheorycough* other attempts at comedies about geniuses.

Original music by Thomas Newman which is fine, as well as Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” Don Henley’s “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” and Bryan Adams’ “One Night Love Affair” among other stereotypically 80s songs.

I liked Real Genius. It’s a fun, harmless and often witty 80s comedy that mostly rides on Kilmer’s personality. Sure, there may be an inordinate number of montages set to music, but whatever, its an amusing movie. Recommended.

Wow, way to spoil the movie, trailer. And ignore the main character.

No comments: