Real Genius (1985)
Director: Martha Coolidge | 108 minutes | comedy, romance | Actors: Val Kilmer, Gabriel Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, William Atherton, Jon Gries, Robert Prescott, Patti D’Arbanville, Stacy Peralta, Mark Kamiyama, Tommy Swerdlow, John Shepherd Reid, Yuji Okumoto, Dean Devlin, Louis Giamalvo, Ed Lauter, Beau Billingslea, Charles Parks, Paul Tulley, Joanne Baron, Monte Landis, Sandy Martin
“Real Genius” is about fifteen-year-old Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret). He is a brilliant scientist who cannot really develop his qualities in high school. Fortunately, his talents in the field of laser technology do not go unnoticed: university professor and TV personality Hathaway (William Atherton) ensures that the boy is admitted to university early. His roommate is the older Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), who in turn also left all his peers far behind; he became the youngest student at the age of twelve and is now taking his exam, although he seems to be more concerned with having fun. However, both boys are working on the same project, led by Hathaway, who has a different agenda.
That we already know what that is, is the opening scene to blame. Hathaway turns out to be a smooth chat maker, who secretly helps the government to deliver the technology for a superweapon that can kill a man from space with millimeters of precision. Real Genius was way ahead of its time in 1985, given the possibilities that drone warfare currently offers. However, the students are not yet aware of the exact purpose of their project.
Mitch works hard, but actually he is still a bit too young for student life. It is also not made easy for him by the terrible bully Kent (Robert Prescott), who supplies the poor boy with a very dirty area. Fortunately there is Jordan Cochran (a disarming Michelle Meyrink), the hyperkinetic student who never sleeps and with whom Mitch makes an endearing friendship – and perhaps more -.
Although Mitch is the real protagonist of “Real Genius”, and Jarret is very convincing as a shy, naive, but intelligent teenager, Val Kilmer (this is one of his first roles) steals every scene in which he can be seen. Just because of the t-shirts he is wearing. His one-liners are very funny and there are many. His growing relationship with Mitch is also nice to see and the boys actually have something to do with each other. And watch Jon Gries as Lazlo Hollyfeld, who has a hilarious role as the man who keeps disappearing into Mitch and Chris’ wardrobe.
“Real Genius” fits effortlessly into the list of “WarGames” and “Weird Science”; 1980s comedy classics that do not use flat or condescending humor à la “Porkies” or “Revenge of the Nerds” but where cleverly written dialogues, credible characters and funny situations are given the highest priority. Sure, the final is by no means credible, but wonderfully over the top bizarre and satisfying. Real Genius is perhaps less well-known than other contemporaries, but it has certainly survived the test of time, thanks to its charming cast and timeless humor.
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