- Movie Rating -

Real Genius (1985)

| August 7, 1985

I love smart characters.  I love watching smart people do smart and unpredictable things.  Dumb characters are predictable and often tiresome – they’re also easier to write.  Real Genius is a movie that illustrates how seldom we get smart characters.  Here they are college kids, smart but also quirky and individual.  That may be even more of a rarity.

Our focus falls on Mitch (Gabe Jarrett), a bright high school kid whose science fair project in lasers has revised the theory of what laser technology can do.  He is recruited by Dr. Hathaway, a physics professor who brings him on campus to help with his research.  There he meets a brilliant but undisciplined student named Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) whose activities aren’t exactly on the curriculum.  At one point, he uses lasers to leads his fellow students to a Tanning Invitational in a lecture hall with a makeshift swimming pool at the bottom.  Later he turns the dormitory corridor into an ice palace.

What’s great about the film is that all of the characters seem to be individuals.  This college doesn’t seem populated by types – jocks, nerds, babes, etc.  Far from Revenge of the Nerds these are students who have carved out an identity for themselves by the value of their work and by their own eccentricities.  Not the least is the guy who enters Mitch’s closet in the middle of the night and seemingly disappear – when Mitch opens the door all he sees are clothes.

Those are the wonderful touches and they add to the film which could be just about the plot.  The plot itself is interesting.  It turns out that Professor Hathaway is running a scam on the kids, getting them to do his work for him.  He has a Defense Department contract to build a sophisticated laser that can fry a man instantly from space.  Meanwhile, while using the kids to the work, he’s taking the grant money to build himself a new house.  Neither the kids nor the government know what Hathaway is doing, of course, but when the kids find out, they come up with a very clever plan that I won’t spoil.

I find now that the director of Real Genius is Martha Coolidge who made the equally smart Valley Girl a few years ago.  I like how her characters talk, how they relate, how their personalities free roam instead of being locked down into cliches.  And yes, it is nice to use the word ‘smart’ so many times in reviewing a comedy outside of discussing the lack of it.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1985) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy