Before he was Iceman and after he was Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was super-genius cool-guy Chris Knight in Martha Coolidge's 1985 comedy classic Real Genius. The film co-stars Gabe Jarrett as Mitch Taylor, Michelle Meyrink as Jordan Cochran, and William Atherton as Prof. Jerry Hathaway. Also featuring a pretty awesome cameo by Jon Gries as Lazlo Hollyfield. This was one of my favorite movies growing up, and its surprisingly good, considering it was written by Neal Israel, the same guy that wrote virtually all of the Police Academy movies. Oh, how I wish I was joking.
For those of you unaware of 1980s teen comedies in general, the film follows a specific formula. Mostly, it involves usurping authority, meeting a girl and spending the entire movie trying to get close to them, and also government-contracted orbital satellite laser weaponry. Well, that last bit is probably exclusive to this particular film. It's hard to tell who the main character in this movie is: it could be Mitch (Jarrett), the young genius that is sent to "Pacific Tech" (based on CalTech) and introduces us to the other characters, or it could be Chris Knight (Kilmer), the charming and vaguely insane super-genius that becomes Mich's roommate, and is looked up to as a scientific genius and all-around party animal by most of the other students. Unfortunately, the washed-up professor Hathaway is using the students to build a chemical laser for the government. While trying to have fun, invent the weirdest and craziest stuff that they can, meet girls, and avoid burning out, the genius students need to foil Hathaway's nefarious plot the only way know how: a prank involving popcorn.
Hey, look at that. That's a lotta nerds. Luckily, the movie is absolutely littered with them. They're everywhere. And these aren't the strange, over-the-top stereotypes and socially-backwards wastes like in Revenge of the Nerds (released just a year earlier). These guys are wacky, crazy, intelligent, and interesting. One guy creates ice in the dorm hallway for them all to skate on, sled on, play around on, and then it sublimates harmlessly into gas. Incredible, right? What did those stupid nerds ever do? Play a dumb 80s-pop song? To hell with those jerks!
There is a surprising amount of what I would consider witty and interesting dialogue, specifically coming from Val Kilmer's character. The Michelle Meyrink character has a fair amount of crazy dialogue, as well. She has some sort of undiagnosed attention deficit disorder as well as an insane level of hyperactivity, leading her to ramble nearly nonsensically at length and the depart suddenly, often doing things for Mitch and then leaving him with her inventions somewhat perplexedly. Mitch is unfortunately kind of uninteresting and rather boring, but we have to tolerate him because he's introducing us to everyone else. Without crazy little Mitch, we wouldn't get to interact with Chris Knight and all the other better, more interesting characters that have better lines and have more personality.
I just wanted to note that I like the shirt he's wearing in this scene. In case you can't see it, it says "I [heart] Toxic Waste," and it seems to be a commentary on the environmental scare that's been prevalent since the 1980s. Of course, now we're more worried about the general environment and our carbon footprints than about radiation and toxic waste. I wish I had one of these t-shirts. He's also wearing dealy-boppers on his head; when asked why it's there, he replies "Because if I wear it anyplace else, it chafes." See? This is the kind of brilliant writing that I was talking about! Can't you see its utter brilliance?
The point is, I really like this movie. My regard for it is probably tainted by my childhood enjoyment of it, but I still find it entertaining and worth watching. It's a pretty cheesy and basic plot, since it was made in the '80s, and some of the characters are transparent and flat. It's entertaining for almost two hours, though, and that's more than most movies end up achieving. I give Real Genius three out of five annoying and vaguely androgynous teen geniuses, or three out of five wittily insane young Val Kilmers out of five.