The PlotWritten by Neal Israel, Peter Torokvei and Pat Proft (Hot Shots, The Naked Gun), Real Genius is the story of Mitch, an overachieving genius teenager who gets into Pacific Tech University long before his age should allow it. He gets into PTU because Professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) needs Mitch’s mind to shake up his research team.
Mitch arrives and immediately discovers that he doesn’t fit in. The team is self-obsessed and into partying. They view him as too serious. The other students ignore him because he’s too young. The bully and his friends decide to make Mitch’s life hell. In the process, they humiliate him. Mitch is soon overwhelmed and crying to his mother to come home.
Meanwhile, Kilmer finds himself threatened by Atherton. If he doesn’t solve the problem of the laser burning out every time it is fired, then Atherton won’t let him graduate and won’t recommend him for jobs.
This lights a fire under Kilmer and he decides to fly right. He helps Mitch fit in and focuses the rest of the team. Soon, they get the laser functioning. They celebrate. At their moment of success, however, mystery character Laslo, a burned out genius who keeps walking into Mitch’s closet and vanishes, comes to them and tells them that the laser they are working on is really a weapon. They are horrified and they arrange to sabotage the test of the laser the military is preparing, with hilarious results involving popcorn.
The Good, The Bad and the AngryI really liked this film. The story was fun and original. The film was also populated with original, interesting characters with bizarre flaws, which is always fun to watch. The writing was clever too. In fact, I can still recall a bunch of the jokes twenty years since I saw the film the last time. For example:
Atherton: I want to see more of you around the lab.Notice that these involve completely unexpected turns of phrases. The setups to get to this point are well thought out too, i.e. these lines don’t just drop out of the blue. And what’s more, the whole film is packed with them.
Kilmer: Fine. I’ll gain weight.
Kilmer: Do you mind if I name my first child after you? Dipshit Knight has a nice ring to it.
Kilmer: If there’s anything I can do for you, or more to the point to you—
Susan: Can you hammer a six-inch spike through a board with your penis?
Kilmer: Not right now.
Susan: A girl’s gotta have her standards.
The story is strong too. The film hits many themes that appeal to us all, such as fitting in, dealing with sneering underlings and credit-stealing bosses, and getting revenge against bullies. Moreover, the plot is believable, but just insane enough to keep the story light-hearted even when its topic can get kind of heavy.
Well, no. I do enjoy this film and I recommend it highly, but it has one serious problem: its politics are noxious. To understand this, a comparison to War Games is in order. War Games involved a political message that nuclear war could never be “won” and that the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction was so insane that anyone who played basic strategy games, i.e. tic tac toe, should know it was untenable.
Whether you agree with that or not is not the point, and I note as an aside that the left would soon flip flop from being anti-MAD to having great reverence for MAD once Ronald Reagan announced the SDI initiative, which they saw as ending MAD. But as I said, that’s not the point. The point is that the politics of the film doesn’t offend. And the reason it doesn’t offend is that the film makes its points honestly and it earns them. Indeed, before we are told that MAD and nuclear war are insane, we go through an hour’s worth of game play which shows us that a real nuclear war would destroy everything, i.e. there would be no winners. Moreover, the film never uses straw men characters, like evil generals who talk about acceptable losses and seem to relish the idea of killing hundreds of millions of civilians. Instead, you get earnest people who don’t want to hurt anyone, though they are prepared to do their duties, and you watch them struggle when faced with the reality of an actual war.
It’s hard to feel offended by that because the facts they present are well founded, the moral dilemma is a genuine one, and neither side is treated with disrespect.
And what message does this film send? It tells us that all moral scientists will refuse to create weapons for the military. Well, that’s bullship. How anyone can argue that the building of weapons to defend a peaceful democracy against an aggressive, murderous communist empire is immoral is simply beyond me. Sure, I get that some people are pacifists, but that is a personal choice and their view does not morality make. There is nothing in morality besides pacifism which suggests that defending yourself is immoral.
Nor was this a widely-held view. In fact, I was in engineering school shortly after this film and I can tell you that not a single person I met bought this line of crap. Yet, here is the film telling you that this is the only acceptable position reasonable people could hold and that anyone opposed to it is a self-interested, murderous retard. That’s propaganda.
It really is to the credit of the strength of the film that I can recommend it despite this twisted message, but make no mistake that the message grates on me every time I see the film.