Project: RPO - Real Genius


Our small band of Gunters here in The DreamCage universe are reviewing every film mentioned in Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. This week, our resident genius Susan Omand watched Real Genius at work...

I’m ashamed to say that Real Genius passed me by the first time around, in 1985. And that really is a shame, not just because it starred Val Kilmer in the role just before he hit the Top Gun big time (and you can really see why in this film), or because it was written by the same comic brilliance that created Police Academy (I’m only counting the first Police Academy film here because it was new and innovative – much of the brilliance became formulaic in the sequels). No, it was a shame because this is a film that I needed to see when I was 17 and struggling with being “the clever one” at school. It would have actually helped me see that a) you’ll get picked on no matter what school/college you go to if you do the “briefcase instead of schoolbag” thing, b) it is possible to be smart and cool at the same time without being an arse at either and c) someone will always attempt to screw things up for you, just because they can. Because I thought it was just me...

Anyway, enough of me feeling sorry for myself.

The story goes along the lines of high school clever-clogs with briefcase (Gabe Jarrett) gets early entry into a university programme for intelligent types and gets put to work with the Science Club guru and genius-level layabout (Val Kilmer really was perfectly cast) in designing a new form of laser for “a class project” alongside a classmate (Robert Prescott) who is very jealous of their perceived success. However it seems that the class professor (the always wonderful William Atherton) has other plans for their prototype once it is complete. The plot runs its course over the usual fare of failure to success, with high jinks and calamities along the way, leading to triumph over adversity, table-turning good guys wreak revenge on establishment bad guys style story. The character development also follows the expected route of the straight-laced kid loosening up a little and the layabout kid smartening up a little, while the hyper-anxious nerdy girl and a weird loner guy who lives in the wardrobe both learn to become team players and everyone wins in the end, well, nearly.

Looking at that, you may think I’m damning the film with faint praise but far from it. As the end credits rolled, to the strains of Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule The World, I knew that this film had delivered exactly what I needed it to – it made me smile a lot. Who cares if the plot was predictable, the characters clich├ęd and the special effects a bit ropey– Real Genius ticked all the required “80’s film” boxes for me. It's a school buddy movie worthy of John Hughes himself, with added War Games tech geekery, A-Team level planning and execution and popcorn. Lots and lots of popcorn. And as for the young Mr Kilmer? Well, The Iceman cometh...

Image - IMDb