[box cover]

Real Genius

Let's hear it for the under-appreciated cinematic heroes of the '80s — the nerds. From Revenge of the Nerds to Weird Science, the pocket-protector set hasn't had a better run on the big screen since Reagan was in the White House and legwarmers were cool. And they've definitely never had a better spokesperson than Chris Knight (a young Val Kilmer), the irreverent brainiac who cuts loose in Real Genius. Mentor to 15-year-old whiz kid Mitch (Gabe Jarret) and general master of campus mayhem, Chris puts his inflated IQ to work planning pool parties in the lecture hall and ice skating down the dorm hallways; he only spends time in the lab working on a special laser beam after weasely Professor Jerry Hathaway (the always-oily William Atherton) threatens to keep him from graduating if he doesn't. Of course, he's got an ulterior motive: Turns out Hathaway is secretly in league with military-type folks who plan to use the laser as a space-to-ground superweapon (basically a souped-up sniper rifle) — and if his nerds don't come through in time, he'll lose everything. Frankly, though, the cloak-and-dagger side of the plot doesn't really matter until the movie's last act, when the gang discovers Hathaway's duplicity; until then, Real Genius is a standard-issue college comedy in nerd's clothing. What makes it work (and simultaneously cements it as an '80s classic) is Kilmer's appealingly goofy performance — it's a shame we don't see that side of him much these days. Just like in 1984's hilarious Top Secret!, Kilmer (who's earned a reputation as a bit of a diva on the set) here seems confident, relaxed, and up for anything, whether it's plotting against pompous snitch Kent (Robert Prescott) or befriending the mysterious man who lives in his closet (Jon Gries). The sweet, gawky Mitch may technically be Real Genius's central character, but the movie ends up being all Chris's; he's John Belushi's Bluto by way of Matt Damon's Will Hunting. Chris and his co-conspirators look good on Columbia TriStar's DVD — their ancient computers belong in a museum, but the disc's digitally remastered anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) shows their every bit and byte in sharp detail (a full-frame version can be found on the DVD's flipside). And the Dolby 2.0 Surround audio does the synth-heavy soundtrack proud; other options include English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The only extras are trailers for Hook and Jumanji, but when you've got crazy '80s nerd shenanigans to watch, who needs goodies? Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech



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