Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Real Genius (1985)

Growing up, there were certain movies that seemed to come on a lot.  If you had pay channels, you were usually treated a limited selection any given month, so it wasn’t unusual to see the same movie several times.  One of the movies I remember was Real Genius.   Val Kilmer played Chris Knight, a genius who’s ready to graduate.  Replacing him is Mitch Taylor, played by Gabriel Jarret, a fifteen-year-old whiz kid.  Mitch is recruited by Professor Jerry Hathaway, who’s building a laser.  As it so happens, that’s what Mitch is interested in.

Mitch is rather straight laced.  He’s all study and no party, as opposed to Chris, who’s all party and almost study.  Professor Hathaway needs his laser, as in right now, so Chris’s lack of work is a problem.  In fact, the good professor threatens to not pass Chris in a necessary class that only Hathaway teaches.  As the school year progresses, Chris gets Mitch to loosen up a bit.  Mitch gets Chris to work a little harder, even if it’s to show Hathaway who’s boss.

They’re joined by a hyperactive/insomniac woman who seems to have a thing for Mitch.  There’s also Kent, who is the teacher‘s pet writ large.  (He’s what they call a legend in his own mind.)  Kent, Mitch and Chris are joined on the laser project by "Ick" Ikagami.  Oh, and there’s a guy named Lazlo Hollyfeld living in the closet of Mitch and Chris’s dorm room.

There were a lot of memorable scenes in the movie.  The one I remember is a series of scenes showing an increasing number of students recording a lecture until the professor gives up and simply leaves a recording of his planned lecture.  Another is Mitch discovering Lazlo’s secret lair.  I remember wishing I had something like that.

One thing I never noticed until my most recent viewing is that the movie features not one but two revenge stories.  After Mitch is tormented by Kent and his lackeys, Chris convinces Mitch to not only stay by get back at Kent by moving Kent’s car into his dorm room.  Later, when Chris is confronted with the reality of not graduating and getting his dream job, Mitch returns the favor.  Not only does Chris stay and graduate, they get back at Hathaway for being such an arrogant jerk.

This leads to a scene tested on Mythbusters.  (Note:  If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want the ending spoiled, skip this paragraph.)  For those that have seen the movie, you probably remember the laser-made popcorn destroying Hathaway’s house.  Yes, it is possible for a laser to make popcorn.  However, it was determined that the destruction of the house could not have been the result of the popcorn.  Once it fills up the house, the pressure of the structure should be enough to keep the resulting volume from expanding.  The popcorn on the edge will be crushed.

The movie has a very goofy slant to it.  Part of the beauty of the movie is that it owns its goofiness.  It can be extreme, but isn’t really.  Yes, Chris and Mitch are opposites, at least during the course of the movie, but they manage to learn from each other.  They each learn to own their own lives and realize that they do have some control over their lives.  We all have to grow up, but how we do that is up to us.  Even Lazlo has hope.

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