Over the past few years, I’ve been working my way through a list of 80’s movies that I should have seen, but somehow didn’t. Movies like Footloose, Flashdance, and The Blues Brothers. When I first began my trek back in time, I was excited. I mean, I love 80’s movies, I grew up in the 80’s, I couldn’t wait to explore more. Then the reality set in. These movies are slower paced, I have no nostalgic ties to them, and in many cases, they’ve been over-hyped. My excitement dwindled and suddenly my list began to look like a chore.
This past Saturday, I found myself thinking about Real Genius, one of the 80’s films that has been on my list. Recently, I was listening to The PSYCHologists Are In podcast, which discusses the Psych television series, and I learned that Val Kilmer’s character was an inspiration for how Shawn Spencer was portrayed. This made me want to see Real Genius just to see the similarities, so as the cold, rainy weather dampened my plans, I went searching for the film.
Unfortunately, I found it on Pluto, which will be the last movie I watch on that streaming platform. Wow, the commercials are excessive! Luckily, the film was great and I’m happy I suffered through it.
Real Genius is about a fifteen-year-old kid who gets accepted into a prestigious school of gifted children. He’s unknowingly assigned to work on a laser project that is actually being developed for military uses. His roommate is one of the most gifted students, Chris Knight, who has recently discovered that life is too short to not have fun. He’s a slacker and smartass, who is obviously smarter than everyone else in the room. It’s only after the first scene with Chris that you realized not only is Shawn Spencer very close to the character, but so is Ryan Reynold’s personality.
The always amazing William Atherton plays the Professor in charge of the laser project and Robert Prescott plays his suck up student who is also the antagonist for the film.
The film is unique in that it features smart kids, not as losers or geeks. They are quirky but have a lot of fun and it’s the type of people you’d love to go to school with.
The film brings up the ethical issue around funding of school projects for military use and while it doesn’t make any truly grand statements, the ending is fantastic, memorable, and over the top in a totally 80’s way.
Fun fact: Real Genius is considered the first movie to be marketed on the internet. In 1985, producer Brian Grazer held a computer press conference where he answered journalist’s questions via computer relays over the CompuServe network.
I didn’t expect to enjoy Real Genius as much as I did. Not only did it hold up, but I’m tempted to buy the 4K release and watch it again. I wish I had seen this as a kid, it would have been my favorite film.