Real Genius begins with Mitch Taylor, a high school whiz kid interested in lasers, being recruited to the prestigious Pacific Tech by a Professor Holloway. Holloway is secretly interested in using Taylor to develop a laser that the CIA can use to incinerate people from space. Weak, right? (This was the stuff of Reagan’s nightmares, right?) Taylor’s thrilled just to be at Pacific Tech, but he hits the books hard much to the displeasure of his roommate Chris (played by Val Kilmer). Chris plays Obi-Wan to Mitch’s Luke, teaching him that life isn’t all about solving problems, while Holloway puts the heat on the two to finish the laser.
When they finally figure out what Holloway has planned for their little experiment, the two recruit other students to help them sink the laser before it can do any real damage.
William Atherton plays the slimy professor keeping the students in the dark. He also played Richard Peck, the jackass EPA agent in Ghostbusters and the jerk reporter willing to sell out anyone for a scoop in Die Hard. Thus, Atherton seems to have a propensity for playing assholes we love to hate. (I bet he gets stopped a lot with comments from people: “You’re the asshole from Ghostbusters!” “You’re the asshole from Die Hard!” I wonder if people ever bring this one up.) He doesn’t disappoint with Real Genius, as he plays the smarmy professor playing all the angles just right.
Kilmer’s funny enough as Chris Knight, and while the movie isn’t great, it has a sort of “real life meets a touch of wishful thinking” kind of sweetness ordinarily found in John Hughes movies. … Or I could’ve just been mistaken by looking at all the ’80’s-tastic fashion. Some of the characters are a bit one-dimensional, but Real Genius makes the whole experience fun. The ending in particular is worth the price of admission. Unrealistic? Slightly zany? It’s hilarious and the kind of thing that can only happen in the movies – and I mean that in the very best way.