Real Genius (1985)

Honorable mention

Real Genius is about the development of a death ray laser.

And any picture of the film you’ve just imagined is probably completely wrong.

Although, to be fair, the first few moments of the film would undoubtedly support those images, because we witness the launch of a cool, lifting body spaceship (which looks a little bit like an A-Wing from Star Wars), which then uses its big laser weapon to vaporize a foreign politician who is a threat to our country.

But as it turns out, this is merely a promo video, for the new weapon system a major government contractor is developing.

But what does this have to do with a fifteen-year old boy’s winning entry in his school’s science fair?

Everything.  Naturally.

Mitch Taylor is a certified physics genius with innovative ideas about lasers, even if he is still fifteen.  He’s overwhelmed because one of his big heroes, TV science show host and Professor at not-quite-Cal Tech, Jerry Hathaway, has pulled enough strings to get him admitted to the university.  There, he will be working directly with Dr. Hathaway, on his pet project.

You guessed it, that same death ray we saw in the opening credits.

And if you still have any doubts about Dr. Hathaway, I will point out that he is played by everyone’s favorite Eighties sleezeball, William Atherton.

Mitch is even more ecstatic when he learns that he will also be working with another of his heroes, scientific prodigy Chris Knight, who was so brilliant that Pacific Tech admitted him at an even younger age than Mitch.

Only Chris (played by an amazingly young Val Kilmer) learned a long time ago that the only way to cope with the pressure of Pacific Tech’s demanding curriculum is to find inventive and creative ways to blow off steam.

The next thing you know, he’s doing his best to teach Mitch how to mellow out.

And play incredible practical jokes…

Real Genius gives us a look at the strange world of universities like Cal Tech, MIT and Cambridge, and the wild practical jokes are often based on real jokes played by their students.  The director, Martha Coolidge, put a lot of work into trying to capture the look, feel and atmosphere of Cal Tech and the end result is a witty little comedy with a lot of crazy, science-based pranks.  There are a few darker moments, a touching little romance, and a mysterious stranger who keeps disappearing in Mitch’s closet.

I have to admit that hyperactive girl genius, Jordan, who never sleeps and has a knack for fabricating unexpected things, is just adorable.  However, the real star is Val Kilmer, who makes the arrogant and overly self-assured Chris likeable, and delivers a constant stream of goofy jokes with a matter-of-fact delivery Groucho Marx would have envied.

Mind you, he doesn’t get the best line of the film.  That comes when Chris asks the beautiful young woman he meets at Dr. Hathaway’s house what he can do for her.

But I’m not going to repeat her reply.

If you are still waiting for that death laser, however, don’t worry, it shows up again before we are over.  And then it all ends with the one practical joke so big it takes the U.S. Airforce and a B-I B bomber to carry it out.

I’m not sure whether you would consider the deadly laser weapon enough to label Real Genius Science Fiction, but it really doesn’t matter: this is a wild, weird and funny little comedy, which deserves to be seen regardless of what genre label you might choose for it.

But you’d better plan on making extra popcorn:

You might develop a sudden craving for it before the movie is done…

Buy or watch at Amazon (paid link):



Check out our new Feature (Updated February 16, 2022):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!



And a whole lot of “firsts”…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.