Movie Review: Real Genius

Posted: January 24, 2011 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , ,


Real Genius (1985/Tri Star Pictures/Dir. Martha Coolidge)

What can be said about Real Genius that hasn’t been said before? Well, quite a lot really. I almost never hear anyone talk about this movie, or hold it up as a favorite, or anything really. It’s strange because considering how favorable the depiction of geeks is in this movie, and how archetypal the characters are, it should be a cornerstone of Geek Culture. It’s not a perfect movie, but there is a lot to love here.

Some days you just know the day’s going to end with you squealing like a pig.

Let’s start with what the movie got right, and give it a few whacks as we go. For starters, I have known all of these people. From the shy Mitch to the extroverted Chris Knight, I have known these geeks. You’ve pretty much got all of them here, even an adorably hyperactive genius. Hyperactive geniuses are the cutest, but it helps that Jordan is played by a pretty cute girl. Mysterious and quiet Lazlo isn’t a complete unknown. The excited and helpful Ick is interesting since he’s an Asian character that displays no stereotypes unless you follow that Asians are supposed to be smart. Even the villain Kent is pretty much a known type in the geek world, as the jealous and socially retarded dweeb.

They’re not cute, they’re eating my brain through my ears. HELP!

The movie is at its best when it’s just being a “Smart people in Academia” story. While it needs the laser storyline to give these guys a reason to do what they’re doing, it sort of dies whenever it gets into the CIA/Corrupt Professor story. Sorry, if you don’t know, the kids are building a laser that their professor is going to give to the military for a new weapon. While that’s sort of central to the story and you couldn’t have the house full of popcorn without it, (did I mention the house full of popcorn?) it kills the movie because it feels terribly artificial. With all the money that was being thrown around indiscriminately during the 80s, I find the pressure being exerted a little unrealistic. It’s a workable storyline, but it feels forced. The movie is on much stronger ground when it sticks to smart young people being quirky. Also, is this work undergrad work? It seems more like PhD work to me. Fortunately, for most the movie’s run time it does stick to the smart people being smart thing.

I’ll be your Jesus in this film.

There is a good and a bad thing about Val Kilmer’s character of Chris Knight, who is a fairly classic clever screwball type. He’s always got a funny thing to say, always has a crack to start every conversation. He’s funny and amusing, but it’s the sort of thing that gets sort of tedious in real life. Whenever I’ve known someone like this, they get tiresome fairly quickly because every encounter has to start with 2 minutes of non-connected bullshit. You’ve just got to sort of wait while looking at your watch, waiting for them to stop being amusing so you can talk to them. Still, on the screen he’s funny so it doesn’t matter how I’d feel about him in real life. I also notice that he’s an early version of a 90s kid with ironic t-shirts and things.

My god, it’s full of corn.

The music is good, even if it sounds like it’s trying to be a “Best of the 80s” collection. There are either three or four musical montages in the movie, depending on how you judge a montage. The point is that there is a fairly good amount of music in this is you have a taste for that sort of music. The movie does rather live in the 80s, even though the best parts would still work today. Everything about this movie screams its date like a banshee wailing. The fashions, the music, it’s all very 1985 except for Chris, who would be the template for fashions ten years later. This paragraph is a little short so I’m going to mention my annoyance at how some characters are introduced, given nothing to do and then dismissed only to turn up for one scene which resolves them later. These characters that are so abused are mostly women, which only makes it worse.

Yeah, a house destroyed by popcorn.

For all the things that don’t work, the many things that do work make up for it. The Good drastically outweighs the bad in this movie and if you’re at all interested in geek culture you owe it to yourself to watch this. If for nothing else, seeing a house destroyed from the inside with popcorn is worth the price of admission. I know, it’s a spoiler, but I’m spoiling a 25 year old movie. Seriously, are you people going to bitch if I mention that a train is robbed in The Great Train Robbery? Hell, that’s only a hundred and ten years old or so, maybe I’m spoiling it by saying they get caught. You people, I tell ya!

Official Score:
75 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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