This is another piece of mine I wrote for a now defunct website called Retro Guava. It was an Australian site that sold retro themed shirts. I did a series of retro movie reviews for the site that focused on films coming out between 1980 and 1995. Real Genius was released in August of 1985. This review has been extensively edited for style and substance from the original review. – WCB
First an explanation of the 1985 Science Trilogy:
The trials and temptations of teenagers in High School and College are widely documented. The details of school life during the era of Reagan are no secret. The battles between Jocks versus Nerds ranged far and wide with casualties too numerous to count. Before the advent of computers, Jocks more often than not won these battles, for the Nerds just did not have the muscle and man-power. Ultimately, the Nerds won this titanic struggle for School dominance in the 1980′s. Unlike the previous decades, the 1980′s brought forth a true era of technological superiority which only the Nerds had the upper hand. Many movies prove this point but three movies in 1985 show the truth of this idea. I dub them the 1985 Science Trilogy, three movies made by different studios that show how science helps stereotypical nerds overcome their life situations. All three were released within two weeks of each other, between August 2 and August 9 in 1985. Two of them are well-known while the third is less so. Real Genius is the second movie in this Trilogy and released on August 7, 1985.
Documentation of brutality of college life exists in many forms from the 1980′s. Often it is the stereotypical sports obsessed and muscle bound dumb “Jock” against the scrawny and intelligent, yet wise, “Nerd.” Occasionally this dichotomy is changed. What happens when a group of intelligent college students is forced to recognize the superior intellect of one younger but much more skilled than themselves? Real Genius poses this question and sets the cameras rolling to film a group of intelligent teens from the mid ‘80′s in their natural habitat.
The film begins with an insidious scheme by several mysterious government types. They are laughing at footage of a new prototype space based weapon that can destroy any single point on the face of the planet. It is a project that is missing one key component that only Professor Jerry Hathaway can provide: A giant freakin’ laser. Professor Hathaway is set to head hunting the most intelligent young minds in the country to help him construct this laser. He does this with all the charm of a carnival huckster and doesn’t reveal to his students the truth behind the project.
Professor Hathaway’s newest protégé is a 15-year-old genius named Mitch Taylor, a young man who is more than a bit naïve. His trust in other people soon leads him to becoming the butt of many a joke that are propagated other members on his team. They hate how quickly he picks up ideas and his laser focused intellect. Luckily, other students have Mitch’s best interests at heart and help fight the vile and cowardly students wanting to do him harm. This includes the hyperactive but lovely Jordan and the former child genius Chris Knight. These two, along with others in a rag-tag group of super science, help Mitch regain his confidence and continue to stay in school. After finding out the true plan of Professor Hathaway, this super intelligent groups the nefarious plot of the military industrial complex and gives Professor Hathaway the punishment for which he is due.
Real Genius is a combination of great acting, a funny script, and good directing. Val Kilmer is at his best in this movie and does a great job of being an overly intelligent yet pompous college student with a heart of gold. Michelle Meyrink is the hyperactive genius Jordan that is cute and often oblivious to what is going on around her. I also think that her portrayal has helped to kickstart interest in quirky woman in a variety of males of a certain age. Gabriel Jarret is Mitch, the main protagonist. He does the 15-year-old fish out of water character well. This could be because he was actually 14 or 15 when he made this movie. I am especially excited to see that John Gries, who plays Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite, is in this movie as the reclusive genius that lives in Mitch’s closet. All the characters are well cast and helped to create one of the better acted Teen
Real Genius isn’t a terribly complex movie by any means; the audience won’t be scratching their heads wondering what just happened. Yet, the movie has a fun plot that actually makes me laugh every time I see the film. It is very quotable as are all the great comedy films from the 1980′s. The music is typically great throughout, underlining each scene and dramatic or comedic moment. This lasts from the first strums of the opening to the melodic 80 era synth that overlays the closing section of the film.
Intelligent people in this movie are not shown as inferior. They aren’t exactly normal but aren’t portrayed as stranger the ‘regular’ folk. It is a movie that supports those with quirky or off kilter dispositions and not one that shows such people as weird.Everyone is unique but not strange and the movie tends to laugh with the characters and not at them. I think this is one reason Real Genius has always held up so well with me. I also think if I took a look at many of my favorite comedies from the 1980′s, the same type of attitude would be on display.
For anyone that loves comedies from the 1980′s but hasn’t watched this film, you should download it or rent it today. You might even buy it on physical media. I also think that up and coming comedy scriptwriters should give this movie a few viewings. It shows that a person can write to a teen audience without being overly vulgar or sexual. Granted, there is a little of that in this film but it doesn’t overtake the plot and center around it like so many modern teen comedies.
Real Genius is a classic movie that should be watched and enjoyed by those that need a good laugh. It provides a good template for a teen comedy, but also shows how a hand picked cast can elevate a film beyond the source material. If you are in a mood for a goofy comedy that doesn’t use those with intelligence and quirky habits as pure comedy cannon fodder, check out this film today. It is worth the time spent watching it.