When watching Real Genius (1985), you need to pay close attention. If you do, you will be rewarded with brilliant one-liner after brilliant one-liner. I love clever dialog such as the viewer is given in this film. And none of it is extraneous, but instead always advances the plot. This is great because as a comedy, there is little time to waste with bloated conversations that you make the laughter lose steam. And Val Kilmer is in it too!
However, Real Genius technically is not about Val Kilmer’s character, Chris Knight, despite his face being all over the movie posters and promotional material. Instead, the story kicks off with a fifteen year old high schooler named Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret), who is approached by Professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) with the proposition of transferring to Pacific Tech (which is really Cal Tech) to work on his laser project. This was seemingly a dream come true for Mitch, particularly the fact that he was going to get to work with one of his heroes, Chris Knight. Yet as is a tried and true plot device in celluloid, his dream scenario was not all bubbling beakers and degrees kelvin. He is bullied by older students like Kent (Robert Prescott), overworked by Professor Hathaway, and (as it turned out) was the unwitting pawn of a government program to produce a death ray.
I identify greatly with Mitch in Real Genius. I was teased and made fun of when I was in elementary school, and as a result I am a little more sensitive to such things. However, there is one lesson that Chris gives Mitch when the teen was about to pack up and leave after being shamed by Kent in front of the whole school. Mitch begins to launch into a recitation of how bad things are for him, including being stuffed into a mailbox in high school. Chris replies with empathy. Empathy is a form of love shared between friends that Christ has for all of us, and to which His time here on earth was a testament. Chris was just like Mitch, and he relates to his junior classmate by hilariously describing the prim and proper attire of Mitch’s versus Chris’ beach wear and relaxed attitude. Of course, Chris’ directive of getting even with Kent as being a “moral imperative” is not too Christian, but the friendship between the two is genuine.
Chris’ demeanor in Real Genius bears a little more discussion. His disregard for authority appealed to me at a younger age, and as I get older I find it charming. However, it is also true that he learns that such flaunting can only be taken so far. Though he did not know it at the time, Chris was under pressure by the government to complete the laser project before the end of the school year. Actually, it is Professor Hathaway who is in the most danger given that he is misappropriating funds from his project to renovate his house. Thus he basically tells Chris that he is kicked out of the school for not taking his work seriously. Chris, understandably, takes this hard. This time, though, it is Mitch that reminds the elder student of the “moral imperative” to get back at Professor Hathaway, but this time by working hard on his studies instead of stuffing a car into a dorm room.
So far, I have made Real Genius out to be a lot more sinister than it is in reality. You might be asking yourself, “Wait, what about all the one-liners?” Well, here you go. In the act stuffing Kent’s car into his dorm room, Chris remarks on the fact that Kent’s name was on his license plate. Mitch claims that his mother does the same thing with his underwear. Puzzled, Chris asks, “Your mother puts license plates in your underwear? How do you sit?” That is only one example of the many hilarious pieces of dialog throughout the film. There is also some adult material, though nothing too overt. It is a classic from the 1980s with Val Kilmer at his prime.