Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on August 7, 1985
Directed by Martha Coolidge
Written by Neal Isreal, Pat Proft, and Peter Torokvei
Cast: Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, William Atherton, Jon Gries, Ed Lauter, Patti D’Arbanville, Dean Devlin, Robert Prescott, Yuji Okumoto, Joanne Baron, Joe Dorsey, Lynda Wiesmeier, and yes indeed, Deborah Foreman
As you probably know, I’m a big fan of teen comedies of the early 1980s, whether they’re the low-end beach-and-booze contributions of Crown International or the elite Cruise-and-Penn headliners of Universal and Warner Bros. But as I’m happily discovering, every now and then one of these lesser offerings will go above and beyond expectations, and display some genuine wit and smarts. That was the case with Real Genius, and like a handful of other similarly-themed films released that summer (Weird Science, My Science Project, Back to the Future), it helped push a new cinema sub-genre to the forefront: the ’80s teen science comedy.
And yes, Real Genius was definitely steeped in science…but it was the overflow of college hijinks and Marx-like antics (and I’m referring to Groucho, not Karl) that really made this such a goofy and enjoyable experience. And a bulk of the credit should go to a young and captivatingly off-kilter Val Kilmer, in only his second movie role; he was nothing short of a blast, and you’ll never again see him this hyper and eccentric, and throw so many hilarious one-liners and non-sequiturs at the screen, ever again. And the great thing was, he wasn’t a dick; he was a very cool science geek.
And that science geek is Chris Knight, a student genius at Pacific Tech University in California, who between episodes of campus fun and frolic is being duped into creating a laser super-weapon for the government. That is, until he and his 15-year-old freshman protégé put two and two together and decide to put a stop to it. And that’s about the gist of it, with Kilmer and newcomer Gabe Jarret spending the entirety of the movie working on their laser project, goofing around, antagonizing their professor and his jerk-nerd graduate assistant, goofing around some more, and in the end, demolishing their professor’s house, with the help of their completed laser…and a particular type of popped snack food.
Sure, it was still a teen comedy, with a fair amount of silliness and overboard caricatures present, but thankfully these aspects were kept to a minimum, and were easily overshadowed by everything else. This was especially true for the direction and cinematography (the unlikely pairing of Martha Coolidge and Vilmos Zsigmond!), the demented way Kilmer played his character, and the look and feel of college life in the mid-1980s. And that’s what really stood out for me: how collegiate it all felt, and how I would’ve loved to be a part of it somehow (apparently, Coolidge spent months researching lasers and student life at the Caltech campus in Pasadena). It all added up to a whole mess of fun.
By the way, shortly after this film was released, back when VHS was king and there were no on-line film sites to reference, my friend informed me that one of my favorites, Deborah Foreman, had a few scenes in this movie, but for whatever reason I never believed him. Years later, I finally rented the video and gave it a look…and suddenly there she was, in an odd but effective bit part and looking as lovely as ever. Trust me, nobody can ask “Can you hammer a six-inch spike through a board with your penis?” as sweetly and provocatively as she can. (7/10)