I have been trying to figure out a way to introduce this movie but to be honest, I have never seen this movie all the way through before I bought it. Now I have seen the last half of this movie several times though and I always enjoyed it so when I saw this movie on sale, I decided to pick it up so I could actually watch it the whole way through. Not the best reason to buy a movie…actually, that is a pretty decent reason to buy a movie. Now here’s hoping that this decision doesn’t come back to bite me on the ass as I get into today’s movie, Real Genius.
The plot: A group of CIA agents are watching a video for a proposed weapon system called Crossbow, a space shuttle armed with a laser that can kill a man on the planet’s surface with pinpoint accuracy. After the video, the other agents ask about the weapon’s readiness and the agent in charge says that they are having trouble with the power source but some of the other high-ranking agents tell him not to delay their schedule. One of the agents disagrees with the project, calling it immoral and unethical, and chooses to be reassigned and after he leaves, one of the agents talks about having him killed. Meanwhile, Professor Jerry Hathaway heads to a high school science fair to meet with 15 year old Mitch Taylor and inform him and his parents that he has been given early admittance into Pacific Tech and will be rooming with Chris Knight, a “legend” in the field of physics but tries not to take life too seriously. Arriving on campus, Mitch heads to his dorm and notices his bags are empty and as he looks around, sees a man walk into the closet and seemingly disappear before Chris shows up talks to Mitch for a bit. Meanwhile, Hathaway is riding in a car with the CIA agent in charge of the Crossbow project, who warns Hathaway that they need a working prototype in 4 months or else the funding will be cut. Later, Mitch heads to Hathaway’s lab, where he meets some of the other students working on Hathaway’s laser project, including Kent, an obnoxious kiss-ass who takes an immediate disliking to Mitch when Hathaway puts him in charge when he is not there. After returning to his room, Mitch prepares to head to class and discovers the dorm is coated in ice, thanks to an experiment by “Ick” Ikagami, and meets Jordan, a somewhat hyperkinetic girl who doesn’t sleep much. When Mitch asks Chris about the man in their closet, Chris says he is Lazlo Hollyfeld, but doesn’t say anything else. As Mitch adjusts to college life and working on Hathaway’s project, he can’t stop thinking about Lazlo and decides to try and figure out where he goes in the closet and discovers the hidden passage into the steam tunnels where Lazlo lives and works. Hathaway asks Chris to meet him at his house and he gives him a deadline for fixing the laser but Chris dismisses it. That night, Mitch is working in the lab on his own and Chris comes in to help him but actually uses the laser, and several mirrors, to light the way to a party he had organized. As people are having fun, Mitch is sitting off to himself until he sees Jordan come in and she quickly goes to him and gets him to help her test a re-breather she made. However, Kent sees them at the party and quickly goes and tells Hathaway, who shows up and berates Mitch for being at the party instead of working. Mitch heads back to the lab but, feeling upset, calls home and asks his parents if he can come home. The next day, Kent and his stooges play a recording of Mitch’s call over the loud speakers, embarrassing Mitch and making him consider quitting. Chris stops him, telling him how Lazlo was a brilliant mind until he snapped under the pressure and the realization that all of his work was being used to kill people. Chris convinces Mitch to get even with Kent and, with Ick and Jordan’s help, they tear apart Kent’s car and reassemble it inside Kent’s dorm room. Hathaway, fed up with Chris’s antics, tells Chris that he will make it so that he won’t graduate and never work in Physics again. Seeing Chris depressed, Mitch decides to cheer him up by telling him to solve the laser problem. Chris and Mitch work on the laser problem, while also studying for Hathaway’s final and Lazlo approaches them, giving them the answers to every question that Hathaway has ever given on an exam as a way to help them out. Mitch goes to bed but finds Sherry Nugel in his room, who is attempting to sleep with the top 10 geniuses in the country, but Mitch leaves his room and heads to Jordan’s room, explaining to her what happened but that he didn’t do anything with Sherry because he wanted to be with her and the two kiss. On the day of the final, Chris believes he has solved the problem with the laser and heads off to take Hathaway’s final but after he leaves, Kent places something on the lens of the laser in order to sabotage it. Chris takes Hathaway’s final then heads back to the lab, where the laser explodes when he attempts to fire it. Returning to the dorm, Chris encounters Kent, who mocks Chris and admits to sabotaging the laser but when Chris gets upset over Kent’s antics, he notices the liquid nitrogen he keeps in the freezer and comes up with a new idea. Grabbing Mitch to help him, Chris heads to Hathaway’s house to tell him that he solved the laser’s power problem. At the lab, Chris explains the idea and when they test the laser, it produces more power than originally planned, burning a hole through the target, as well as the cinder blocks behind it and several other items. Hathaway congratulates them and Chris and Mitch go to celebrate with Jordan and Ick. As they are celebrating, Lazlo approaches them and asks about the laser and makes them realize that the only thing it could be used for is a weapon and they race back to the lab to find that the laser is gone. Deciding to get revenge on Hathaway, they knock out Kent and make a two way radio out of his braces, then start talking to him, pretending to be Jesus, and get him to tell them when the test will be. After following Hathaway to a military base, Chris and Mitch sneak into the base and replace one of the control chips while back at the school, Lazlo reprograms the target for the test fire. The next morning, Chris, Mitch, Jordan, and Ick have the school’s president and local congressman meet them at Hathaway’s house to explain what is going on. They take cover just as Kent, who had been told to go there by “Jesus”, shows up but when he starts to go inside, Chris and the others try to warn him to stop. Suddenly the laser fires and instead of hitting the target, it strikes Hathaway’s house, causing it to heat up a giant bag of popcorn, which fills up the house and starts bursting the seams, causing popcorn to spill out onto the lawn. As Chris and the others celebrate, they see Lazlo pull up in a mobile home, one of several prizes he won, and he tells them he is getting married and Sherry steps out of the mobile him and tells them that Lazlo was the genius she was looking for. They all watch as neighborhood kids start playing in the piles of popcorn in the lawn and later that night, Hathaway shows up and stares at the wreckage of his house.
Real Genius met with mostly positive reviews from the critics, holding a 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, many critics liked the comedy and actors in the movie. While some of the ideas sounded good in the movie, they definitely weren’t very accurate scientifically. The idea of destroying a house with popcorn was disproven on Mythbusters, as their test showed that the popcorn would stop popping and eventually start charring. The movie was a mild hit at the box office, earning $12.9 million at the box office.
This is a pretty funny movie. Val Kilmer (Chris) did a good job in the role and I liked Gabriel Jarret (Mitch) as the new kid he takes under his wing, while William Atherton (Hathaway) made a great antagonist and Robert Prescott (Kent) was an excellent toadying character. The plot was good, with the students unknowingly building a weapon and then trying to stop it from being used when they figure out what is going on. The comedy aspects of the movie were pretty good and featured a good mix of funny dialogue and sight gags and I honestly can’t tell which was funnier at times. A pretty funny movie to watch, especially if you want a bit of 80’s nostalgia.
Rating: 3 out of 5