Either way, we became obsessed with this movie. We watched it over and over during our sophomore year. We were living with two other girls in an apartment that year, and one of them also enjoyed the movie, though she didn't get quite so deeply involved with it as Ed and I did.
By "deeply involved," I mean we quoted it endlessly. "It's a moral imperative" became a kind of mantra for us, our best reason for deciding to do anything from trying a new shampoo to staying up until 2am on a Friday night/Saturday morning to watch one more movie before crashing. We quoted a lot of other lines too. "Rue the day? Who talks like that?" was another favorite, mostly because WE were the sort of literary nerds who talked like that.
Wearing those antennae taught me the power of costumes. Ed was already an outgoing person, but our third Musketeer and I were both quite shy. I don't know how it worked for my fellow shy roommate, but for me, wearing those antennae gave me a boldness I usually lacked. Somehow, knowing that people would be looking at the antennae on my head, not just at me, made me willing to be a little more outgoing. Not a lot -- they didn't change my personality. But if a basketball player stopped me to ask if I was a bug or an alien, I'd make some funny or cute remark back about it being a secret, so I'd have to kill him if I told him. Ordinarily, I probably would have mumbled something, but knowing he was staring at the antennae gave me some kind of inner spark of energy or something.
Anyway, rewatching Real Genius to review it this week flooded me with nostalgia. I didn't just remember the movie, I remembered all our good times watching it, using the movie to psych ourselves up before a big test or something difficult. It always had a sort of empowering effect on us like that, filling us with confidence.
The movie is honestly pretty standard '80s teen comedy fare. There's a geeky genius named Mitch (Gabe Jarret) who gets accepted to a prestigious science school.
His new roommate Chris (Val Kilmer) is an unconventional charmer who glides through life (and school) with an insouciant swagger, tossing off funny quips and profound nonsense at every turn. Also, he wears bunny slippers a lot.
There's also a mysterious man who comes and goes via the closet in their room. Mitch eventually learns this is Lazlo Hollyfeld (Jon Gries), who was once the smartest, youngest student at the school, but now is a recluse who lives in the steam tunnels. (If he looks familiar, Gries played Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite...)
Together, Lazlo, Mitch, and Chris discover that a professor (William Atherton) is going to use their research and inventions to build a laser weapon for the military, so they decide to sabotage his project. The sabotage involves filling the professor's house with popcorn, which he hates, in a pretty spectacular and memorable finale.
The science in the movie ranges from flimsy to just barely plausible. The school is laughably unrealistic. The ease with which Chris and Mitch sneak onto a military base and sabotage a top secret project is nonsensical. But that doesn't matter. Because... Val Kilmer sells the whole thing, one swaggering bon mot at a time.
I really wonder what filming this was like for Kilmer. After all, he was a bit of a boy genius himself -- the youngest student ever accepted to the acting program at Juliard. I wonder if he's so very, very effective at mentoring Mitch because, in a way, Kilmer saw a bit of his own past situation in Mitch's story. Boy genius, youngest student at a place filled with talented people, lots of pressure to succeed... it must have felt familiar, don't you think? I wonder if Kilmer exudes such actual kindness and care through this character because he's playing the sort of mentor he once needed. Or maybe I'm just reading way too much into this fluffy bit of tomfoolery!
Is this movie family friendly? Ummmmm, welllllll, not exactly. It's only rated PG, but I really think it should be PG-13, due to the innuendo and sexual references scattered throughout, mostly in dialog but also some implied visually. But the PG-13 rating was still very new in 1985, so I guess they decided not to apply it here. I won't let my kids watch it yet, but I probably will when they are in their upper teens.
This review is my contribution to the fifth So Bad It's Good Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room. I'm so glad it gave me a reason to revisit this movie, which I do love even though it's cheesy and unrealistic and ridiculous and goofy.