Packed with orgasmic ‘80s montages, an adorably anarchic Val Kilmer and advocating the kind of anti-authority rebelliousness that appeals to the teenager in us all, Real Genius could just be the greatest John Hughes movie not made by John Hughes.
Directed by Martha Coolidge at her hip-cool ‘80s peak (this came after Nic Cage’s mohawktastic Valley Girl, and before 2004’s terrible The Prince & Me), it’s the kind of glossy, high-spirited slice of goofball Americana that makes you wish you’d been an American youngster in the decade that fashion forgot. Was it ever really like this for the real teens living it? Probably not, but we can dare to dream, can’t we?
Kilmer plays Chris Knight, the kind of genius who could do some real damage on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? A science club geek/legend, he’s working at Pacific Tech University to craft a high-powered laser – which is when 15-year-old freshman Mitch (Gabriel Jarret) is assigned as his roomie. Together, they attempt to perfect the laser (amid numerous riotous parties), unaware that their invention is intended to be used by the CIA as a weapon.
It may not be a John Hughes movie, but like the best of Hughes, the – uh – genius of Genius lies in its kids versus adults warfare. William Atherton makes for a superbly slimy foil as an exploitative professor (he basically played the same character a year earlier in Ghostbusters), while the climactic prank involving the professor’s house and a lot of popcorn (replete with slow-mo popcorn dancing) is the stuff of ’80s cinema gold.
Filled with loveably kooky characters, a live-for-the-moment vitality, and a gloriously of-its-time soundtrack fuelled by Tears For Fears, Bryan Adams and The Call, Real Genius is the real deal. 4/5