Film Review: Real Genius (1985)

Release Date: August 7th, 1985
Directed by: Martha Coolidge
Written by: Neal Israel, Pat Proft, Peter Torokvei
Music by: Thomas Newman, The Textones
Cast: Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, William Atherton, Robert Prescott, Jon Gries, Ed Lauter, Patti D’Arbanville

Delphi III Productions, TriStar Pictures, 108 Minutes


“This? This is ice. This is what happens to water when it gets too cold. This? This is Kent. This is what happens to people when they get too sexually frustrated.” – Chris Knight

Real Genius is one of those comfort movies from my youth. I loved this film when I was a kid but I was always really into tech stuff and my love for G.I. Joe and sci-fi had me really interested in military weapons science. Although, the kids in this film didn’t know that they are building a superweapon until it was too late.

Val Kilmer, who was the “king of cool” for quite some time between the ’80s and ’90s, felt authentic in his role as Chris Knight, a super genius that was a bit burnt out and just wanted to party and enjoy life. Gabe Jarret was also really good as Mitch, the younger super genius that came to the college at fifteen and roomed with Chris. The rest of the kids also felt real and all of them played their roles to perfection.

William Atherton, quintessential ’80s adult super villain, was up to his old tricks as the authoritative and vindictive heel to the heroes. He was a celebrity scientist with a hit show who was using the university as a means to get super smart kids to create a killer laser for the U.S. military. Atherton’s Professor Hathaway was the Joker to Kilmer’s Batman. Wait… Kilmer would eventually be Batman. Whoa! Imagine an Atherton Joker. And hell, what if Mitch became the Riddler? Okay, I’m distracted… sorry. But now I can’t get the thought of Michelle Meyrink as Catwoman out of my head. Or the Asian kid being Mr. Freeze because he freezes stuff. And Lazlo could be Two-Face… mainly because he’s tall. And well, Kent could be Scarecrow because he’s a jerk and a total pussy. Damn it! Get back on topic!

Anyway, Real Genius is a film that’s a hell of a lot of fun and has a good solid message.

It’s about kids fighting authority and a system they really don’t want to be a part of. A system that exploits them for their talents. And it is a cool movie because the kids fight back and outwit the adults that think they’re smarter than the geniuses they tried to dupe. Ultimately, this is a coming of age movie that deals with the youth’s inability to trust a scary adult world that existed before them and corrupted their parents.

Real Genius is much more than a standard ’80s teen comedy. It is well written with lots of talented young actors that play their parts convincingly. Val Kilmer has done a lot in his long career but this is still my favorite role that he’s ever played.

Can we maybe get a sequel featuring an old, even more burnt out Chris Knight living in Mitch’s basement where Mitch has to deal with “cool uncle” Chris teaching his kids how to have fun because Mitch grew up to be even lamer and more uptight? And Kent could be the district manager over a dozen Radio Barns that are closing down because we live in an Amazon world. And Lazlo could be like a hybrid of Mark Cuban and Bill Gates. I should really just write pointless sequels for a living, I’ve got a lot of unrefined and ambitious ideas, y’all.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: WarGamesD.A.R.Y.L.Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science.

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