by Mel Valentin
In the 1980s, tall hair was the norm, the clothes violated every rule of fashion sense, and popular music was abysmal (David Bowie, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder tarnished their legacies by altering their music and performing styles to match popular tastes). Hollywood churned out forgettable mediocrity after forgettable mediocrity (with the occasional exception, of course). Directed by Martha Coolidge ("Material Girls," "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge," "Angie," "Rambling Rose," "Valley Girl") and written by Neal Israel, Pat Proft, and Peter Torokvei, "Real Genius" was, thankfully for moviegoers back in 1985, an exception to the barrage of mediocrities Hollywood was then and, sadly still is, churning out. As good as "Real Genius" was then, it’s even better now.Midway through the academic year, Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton), a Carl Sagan-like professor at Pacific Tech recruits Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret), a fifteen-year old genius, to attend Pacific Tech and join Hathaway’s top-secret, government-sponsored projects. Hathaway’s team receives college credit for their work and a well-paying, post-university position in their expertise. Hathaway gets the accolades and the big government contracts. Trouble is, the unnamed agency sponsoring Hathaway’s research into laser weaponry isn’t pleased with the slow progress Hathaway and his team of geniuses has made. To that end, he’s brought Mitch in to help spur his team into working more productively.
"Everybody wants to rule the world."
Mitch moves in with Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), Hathaway’s team leader and a living legend among science geeks. In response to the stress and grind, Knight has become a slacker and prankster. Knight makes it his to goal to save Mitch from becoming an adult too soon. Mitch keeps seeing a longhaired stranger (Jon Gries) slip in and out of the closet in his room. Mitch develops a crush on another Pacific Tech student, Jordan (Michelle Meyrink), a hyperactive insomniac who lives next door. Mitch also gains a nemesis, Kent Torokvei (Robert Prescott), a college senior with a man-crush on Hathaway (Kent openly covets the job Hathaway’s promised to Knight).
Hathaway’s secret project seems mundane by contemporary standards. It was fiction then, fact now. Still, the purpose behind the secret project is best left for viewers to discover on their own. Paying even casual attention to the prologue will tell you everything you need to know, though. As for everything else, Real Genius is as perfect a mainstream, subtext-laden comedy as you’ll find at your local video store or online. With switchbacks, likeable characters, hissable villains, a mix of clever and lowbrow humor (e.g., verbal and physical), reams of quotable dialogue and just enough subtext to elevate Real Genius from Animal House-inspired comedy to satire.
Real Genius is certainly a product of the 1980s. The heroes are of Caucasian. Minorities are strictly background fodder.. Ronald Reagan was just starting his second term in office after a stunning landslide victory over Walter Mondale. Progressive politics were in full retreat after the end of Vietnam, Watergate, the Iranian hostage crisis, and the loss of American hegemony both politically and economically. Real Genius also made science and science geeks attractive. Knight is brilliant, and looks like a young Val Kilmer. He’s also an outsider by choice, rebelling against careerism, corporatism, academia, and the military-industrial complex.When it comes to choosing between other acknowledged “classics” made in the 1980s, e.g., the "Back to the Future" trilogy, John Hughes' decade-defining teen comedies, "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club," "Pretty in Pink," "Weird Science," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Some Kind of Wonderful"), "Better Off Dead," "WarGames" and "Real Genius," "Real Genius" has it all over them all any day of the week, month, or year (and that's no exaggeration). If you haven’t given "Real Genius" a chance, it’s time you did. You won’t regret it. And if that's not enough to pique your interest, what about the 80s synth pop that makes up the bulk of the soundtrack? That's right, if you act now, you'll get a chance to hear, The Call, Chaz Jankel, the Textones, Bryan Adams, Don Henley, and Tears for Fears, who provide the closing track, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."
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originally posted: 03/26/07 12:54:53