Although released in the middle of a glut of forgettable Eighties science-y teen comedies, Real Genius has really held up quite well. From Val Kilmer’s bouffant-sporting ubernerd-cum-class clown to Michelle Meyrink’s hyperactive dream-inducing geek-girl Jordan, and of course William Atherton in a classic “Asshole!” role as the professor who is deluding his team (which, oddly, seems to be constituted entirely of senior undergraduates) into believing they’re working on an academic research project while surrepitously contracting with some shadowy cigar-smoking CIA backroom technocrats to build a secret, SDI-like orbital laser weapon capable of “vaporizing a human target from space”, this is a brilliant film.
Although clearly not filmed at Caltech (most principal exteriors appear to have been done at the nearby Claremont schools, which is amusing given the longstanding Caltech/Harvey Mudd rivalry), the fictional Pacific Tech is clearly intended as a stand-in for Califorina Instutite of Technology, and various 'Techisms (“purple tapioca”, the finals week “Decompression Chamber” and “Tanning Invitational”, the “hyperspace” between house walls, references to DEI all over the place) are clearly made to reinforce this notion. (The tech advisor on the film, a CalTech alumnus, walks past the protagonists as they are gassing Kent’s room.) Unlike most 'Eighties comedies which have aged badly–Weird Science doesn’t play well even as kitch, and My Science Project was never a good film to begin with–this stands up pretty well today, and it doesn’t hurt that the terminology and technology described in the film–while sometimes exaggerated for dramatic or comedic effect–was technically accurate and in current use as of the production of the film.
Kilmer stopped doing comedy after this (unless you consider his abbreviated tenure as Batman to be high camp), instead taking on a string of minimally emotive dramatic rolls that were mostly pretty indifferent until the 2005 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, clearly indicating that he should devote himself more to humor. The kid who plays genius child Mitch Taylor pretty much disappeared–his largest role since was an anonymous flight controller in Apollo 13–but he’s actually well-suited to this role, looking and sounding like an authentic science nerd instead of some overaged teen heartthrob with horn-rimmed glasses and a few dabbed-on fake zits trying to stretch his mouth around four syllable words. And Jon Gries as Lazlo Hollyfeld is awesome. Even the music for the montage scenes–Eighties techno-pop that I usually find unbearable–is well chosen.
Highlights:[ul][li]The absurd opening filmstrip; “Just like shootin’ ducks in a barrel!”; “Working in secret, our scientists are turning a engineering dream into an effective reality.”“Compared to you, most people have the I.Q. of a carrot.”“Old Professer Hostetler? Isn’t he dead?” “sigh He is now.”“That’s a wonderful story, Brodie. I’ve noticed you’ve stopped studying.” “I’ve been giving myself shock treatments.” “Up the voltage.”“Do you want a cherry? I grow them myself.”“I just hope we can keep it from exploding!”Surf Nicaragua“Is that popcorn? I hate popcorn…get it away from me.” “Now I know what to get you for your birthday.”“But–and I’m only saying this because I care–there are a lot of decaffinated brands on the market that are just as tasty as the real thing.”“They’re from the Wanda Dressler School of Beauty!”That stupid yellow Citroen that Kent drives.“You must get even with Kent. It’s a moral imparitive!”“You know you’re not supposed to park your car on campus, Kent.”“Put simply, in deference to you, Kent, it’s like lasing a stick of dynamite.”Notice the van: Drain Experts Incorporated.Jiffy Pop, Neighborhood Size.“What have you done?” “My house!”“I think we used too much.”“I won! 31.8% of the prizes, though. I’ll have to figure that out.”Popcorn for eveyrone![/ul][/li]
Why can’t they make movies like this? Smart, funny, lacking in scatological humor and gross-out comedy? Anyway, a great film.