Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

24 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Here’s another risqué comedy about young people who break the rules and often talk vulgarly. When done right (like “Animal House” and to a lighter extent, “Risky Business”), it can be less raunchy than it sounds. But when done wrong (“Porky’s,” “Porky’s II,” “Where the Boys Are 84”—I could go on and on, but I won’t for space), they can be real scuzz-pits. Then you have “Revenge of the Nerds”—that’s a clever title for a movie and a clever idea. This is a raunchy comedy that doesn’t focus on the slobs or the jocks, but the nerds—the geeky, twerpy guys who are smart but socially awkward. This film does not take place in the real world—this is a movie in which all jocks are stereotypical jerks who, of course, are the most-loved ones on college campus, and also know nerds when they see them wearing glasses or sporting pocket protectors on their shirt pockets. Oh, and most of the “nerds” are freshmen, which makes it hard to believe. No introduction necessary—they just shout “nerd” at you and make your life miserable. It doesn’t matter what you do; you will always be a nerd to them.

Just describing that one detail of “Revenge of the Nerds” makes it seem ridiculously stupid. But this is a surprise—yes, it features stereotypical jocks (and nerds, for that matter) and quite a lot of female nudity from the sexiest sorority girls. But it also features enough laughs and enough likable lead characters (the nerds) that I’m recommending the film. It’s stupid, but it’s playfully stupid.

So anyway, the trouble starts when the jocks’ idiotic behavior burns their frat house to the ground and the jocks invade the freshmen’s dorms, forcing the “nerds” to sleep in the gym. Then, when the nerds (I hate to call them this) have an opportunity to make into the only fraternity that’s left for them—an all-African-American fraternity called Lambda—those dumb jocks ruin their chances by crashing their party and humiliating them. This will not do. It’s time to stand up and retaliate. Led by Louis (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert (Anthony Edwards), the nerds panty-raid the jocks’ favorite sorority house, install hidden cameras in their dorm rooms, and put “liquid heat” in the jocks’ jockstraps. And if they win the Homecoming decathlon at school, they can take over the jock fraternity.

At that point, the film is predictable, but it’s honest and displays the message that nerds are people too. Some of the nerds are types—we have the slob, the horny Asian, the gay African-American, and the weak nerd—but the two leads, Louis and Gilbert, seem like real people and do earn our sympathies. The jocks—this includes the football coach, played over-the-top by John Goodman—are types, like I said. But in this case, they deserve their comeuppance. I know I smiled when seeing them in pain after the nerds put liquid heat in their jockstraps.

Some of “Revenge of the Nerds” is funny and some of it is heroic. That’s a good enough mix for me to recommend the film without going too crazy over it.

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