Real Genius (1985)

6 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Real Genius”—you know, some films just have accurate titles. In a decade where a lot of society’s movies are about teenagers (that decade would be the 1980s), “Real Genius” is one of the real good ones. It’s a surprise too—this film was released in 1985 and was one of three movies about teenagers and their science projects. The other two such films were “Weird Science” and “My Science Project,” two lousy teenage comedies. “Real Genius” is a real treat, however—it’s very funny and well put together.

The film’s central teenage characters are college students who are not quite the sex-crazed goons you would find in lesser teen movies. The protagonists in this movie are actually well-developed, likable three-dimensional characters who don’t always play by the rules, but there are teenagers like that around. They are Mitch (Gabe Jarret), a 15-year-old boy genius who is the youngest person to be accepted at Pacific Tech, and Chris (Val Kilmer), another young brain who has spent four years at the school and is about to graduate. Mitch and Chris are two of the students chosen to work on a laser experiment. But little do they know that they are being used by Professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton), who wants to use the experiment—if it gets finished—to sell it to a military as a weapon.

But in the meantime, Chris is a class-A prankster who uses his genius to set up all sorts of things to make life on campus less boring. For example, he turns the dorm hall into an ice-skating rink, and he turns the lecture hall into a swimming pool. He tells Mitch that he used to be just like him—nervous and socially awkward—until he learned how to relax. Now he feels like it’s his duty to take Mitch out of his shell and teach him to have fun. “Real Genius” is most fun when it comes to showing Chris’ antics. There’s another scene in which Chris and Mitch get revenge on an uptight nerd named Kent, who is also Professor Hathaway’s fink and Mitch’s bully, by disassembling his car and reassembling it in his own dorm room. Brilliant and…dare I say, ingenious.

There are two other quirky characters are crucial to the movie. One is a scruffy-bearded strange man named Laszlo (Jonathan Gries) who used to be the top brain on campus until he cracked and is now living in the steam tunnels below the school (the way in is through Chris and Mitch’s closet, which makes things awkward at first). The other is a hyperactive girl named Jordan (Michelle Meyrink). She never sleeps and is the kind of girl who would run into the men’s restroom to show Mitch a sweater that she made for him. She and Mitch share a cute relationship together. Chris, Mitch, Laszlo, Jordan, and another genius nicknamed “Ick” (he helped Chris with the ice in the dorm) discover about Professor Hathaway’s plan later in the film and decide to strike back.

“Real Genius” is packed with characters and jokes. It is well-written with a real integrity and intelligence (although some jokey lines of dialogue using the word “penis” get old). The writers know that teenagers can have the freedom to be themselves—not just slobs or sex-crazed maniacs or idiots. They’re funny enough being geniuses in this film. That’s a pleasure among many pleasures that lie within “Real Genius.”

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