There was a time when Val Kilmer was primarily doing goofball comedies like Top Secret or playing supporting roles like Iceman in Top Gun. Not like when he was a serious actor in Batman Forever.
Anyways, Real Genius was a little more grounded in reality than the other two entries in Science Gone Mad. There is no alien technology or magic genies. Instead, it follow the story of young science prodigy Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret). He has graduated from high school early and been accepted to a University renowned for it’s science genius students. Mitch goes in with high hopes. There he meets his roommate, Chris Knight (Val Kilmer). Chris is popular with the student body and seems to be more interested in applying his brilliant mind to having fun, an annoying trait to his professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) who needs Knight’s intellect to complete a project for him.
Mitch also meets a hyper-kinetic you woman named Jordan (Michelle Meyrink) whom he is quickly smitten with. She is a genius whose mind is in constant think mode, ideas flowing at a rapid pace. There is also the mysterious guy who seems to live in Mitch’s closet.
It is not all fun and games, as Mitch finds that there are bullies among geniuses as well. At one point, he makes a pained call home to his parents, feeling defeated. This very call is used to humiliate him publicly. Jarret is especially sympathetic as the scene plays out.
The film mostly goes for light humor, but does know when to be more serious, without it totally messing up the flow of the film. It is funny and the characters are very likable. Martha Coolidge draws strong performances from the cast (this is Val Kilmer’s second theatrical release) and along with the writers, keeps the film focused. It never goes off the beaten track. We only get the information we need, experiencing the important story points. Even the jokes function towards telling the story. There is a running joke in which Mitch enters a class room, and there are fewer students each time, as students are leaving tape players to record the lecture…eventually, he is the only person as the room, as the teacher leaves a tape player in the room playing his lecture. Really, the joke shows how lonely it is for Mitch and how he is having a hard time assimilating into the culture of the university.
Chris Knight is not an original character, he is the goofball genius we have seem many times. But Kilmer imbues him with a real charm. Knight looks after Mitch like a little brother, trying to help him break free of his uptight fears of failure. He wants to get Mitch to open up to life’s possibilities. And Mitch is both sympathetic and pretty endearing. Atherton is terrific in his trademark role as “Authoritarian Asshole”. And you cannot help but like Meyrink’s Jordan. She is a sweet, super smart chatterbox and it is weirdly endearing.
Real Genius is a highly fun comedy that has the right amount of thoughtfulness running through it. It is a smart comedy with the hint of dumb (but only enough to make you laugh).