My most memorable screening of Real Genius was not seeing it the weekend it opened in August, 1985, at the late, lamented Century 1, 2, 3 in Schaumburg, Illinois. (In its opening weekend, Real Genius was jostling for recognition with similarly-themed teenage tech/comedy films My Science Project, released the very same weekend; Weird Science, which had been released the week before; and Creator, released a mere five weeks later.) No, the best screening of Real Genius was at the Film Center of the Art Institute a few years later. It was part of a double feature with Valley Girl and director Martha Coolidge was in attendance, introduced the films, and presided over a lively Q & A. If I remember correctly, as a then-high-school-teacher, I got to thank her for making a teen comedy that actually whispered that it was (Shhhh!) good to be smart.
Sorry Patrick, Nicolas Cage was not in attendance.
The other night I spun the new disc (Which you would know if you read my tweets) and was impressed by how well the film holds up and how much of the humor is still really funny. I don’t want to spoil all the one-liners, but I am hard-pressed to think of a funnier joke than when Mitch finally goes to Jordan’s dorm room in the middle of the night... and she’s power sanding the floor.
The film prophesizes drone technology that can vaporize a single human target from space. Does that premise seem far-fetched? Consider the latest Al Queda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to be taken out by the US government. I remember how queasy I felt reading about the actual weapon used. According to armyrecognition.com: “The MQ-9 Reaper fired Hellfire AGM-114R9X missiles, popularly known as ‘flying Ginsu’ among US officials. It is a warhead-less missile equipped with six razor-like blades popping out from the fuselage seconds before slicing through the target [...] Al-Zawahri was standing on the balcony of his hideout when the two Hellfire missiles were launched [...] One hit the balcony, while the other one hit al-Zawahiri.”
William Atherton makes a terrific villain; Real Genius is the second film in his legendary “What A Prick Trilogy,” which begins in 1984 with his portrayal of EPA bureaucrat Walter Peck in Ghostbusters and concludes with Die Hard’s hissable TV newsman Richard Thornburg in 1988. Atherton was the reliable, go-to comic villain of the 1980s. Has any actor ever been so effortlessly unlikeable? I love the scene in Real Genius when he shouts at Val Kilmer, “You are of no further use to me!” Kilmer’s deadpan response? “Interesting way to start a conversation.”
The film’s use of music is smart and funny, and I still remember director Coolidge talking about how much time and money went into securing the music rights for both Valley Girl and Real Genius. Valley Girl’s soundtrack is legendary (“I Melt with You,” anyone?) and Real Genius makes memorable use of Rosemary Clooney’s “You Took Advantage of Me,” Don Henley’s “All She Wants to Do is Dance,” and most especially Tears for Fears’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” I wonder how many people of my generation, hearing that song now on the radio, still envisions children playing in slow motion in an enormous pile of popcorn?American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused, and National Lampoon’s Animal House for moviegoers of my era (era) Real Genius is a nostalgia engine.
Gentle Reader, if you have never seen Real Genius, remedy that soon. The new Sony 4K Blu-ray is a treat. Or, if you haven’t seen it recently, by all means pay it a return visit—while keeping in mind the immortal words of Socrates:
“... I drank what?”