Film: Real Genius

Real Genius is a comedy/science fiction film produced in 1985, starring Val Kilmer, Gabriel Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, and William Atherton.

The movie starts out about Mitch, a 15 year old boy who designs a cutting edge laser for his high school science fair. This gains him the attention of professor and educational TV show (think Cosmos: A Personal Voyage with Carl Sagan) host Jerry Hathaway, who offers to enter the wunderkind at Pacific Tech as an accelerated student. There, Mitch takes classes taught by tape recorder and meets the irreverent Chris Knight; who tries to teach the younger Mitch that he can't take everything in life so seriously, particularly when Mitch ends up as the Butt Monkey of the school's Jerkass, Kent.

As it turns out, Chris and Kent are competing for the same post-graduate position under Hathaway, and while Chris's lighthearted quasi-slacker attitude rankles the professor, Kent shamelessly toadies up and finally seems to triumph over the heroes when he sabotages Chris and Mitch's laser project work.

The final straw comes when Chris and Mitch discover that Hathaway has secretly contracted with the CIA to turn their laser into a weapon and take all the credit. Chris doesn't approve, and recruits the genius kids of the university to help him take revenge on both the greedy Hathaway and Kent during the laser's first live-fire exercise.

This film provides examples of:

  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents:
    • After speaking with Mitch's parents at the science fair, Dr. Hathaway asks them if, by any chance, Mitch is adopted.
    • Mitch has to assure Jordan that the reason he won't take her to meet them is that he's ashamed of them, not of her.
    • After watching Hathaway on TV, Mitch's mother has only one question: is his hair real?
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The laser technology in general is real, but Chris's breakthrough on the five megawatt laser is pure Technobabble. Some of the college pranks, like Ick's "ice", toe the line because nobody bothers to explain exactly what it is.
  • Awesome but Impractical: Chris uses liquid nitrogen to freeze ice which he then cuts coin slugs from with a filament knife just to avoid paying for vending machines. Even putting aside the fact that he doesn't have to pay for the gas itself if he uses university resources, he still has to freeze it into a shape that fits into the coin slot and registers as a coin.
  • Balloonacy: Some trailers and promotional material depict Chris floating in a deck chair held aloft by balloons. This didn't make the final cut of the film, however.
  • Big Blackout: Chris Knight causes one when he turns on his laser beam pathway for the "Tanning Invitational." It's not known how widespread the blackout is; the audience only sees the Pacific Tech campus.
    Chris Knight: "Relax. That's just the fuses at the substation, they'll have it back on in a minute. Maybe I shouldn't have shorted across the building transformer. But more important: did we get a charge?"
  • Breakout Character: It's hard to remember that Chris Knight wasn't the main character. Even the DVD box cover gives Kilmer the only billing, and uses only his photo.
  • Buffy Speak: "Put simply - in deference to Kent - it's like lasing a stick of dynamite."
  • Call Back:
    • "It's a moral imperative," used first by Chris to inspire Mitch; later Mitch returns the favor.
    • Mitch, having fallen asleep while studying, has a nightmare. "No, not the mailbox again!"
  • The Cast Showoff: Word of God says that Val Kilmer insisted his trick walking coins along the backs of his knuckles make it into the film at some point. It's shown in the first montage.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Hathaway hates popcorn, as Chris finds out when he visits the professor's house. The protagonists later use popcorn in a spectacular way during their revenge scheme by turning Hathaway's house into a giant Jiffy-Pop.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Lazlo, who lives in underground steam tunnels accessed via Chris and Mitch's closet.
  • Closet Sublet: Lazlo, as described above, appears at first to live in the closet.
  • Comically Missing the Point: A frequent source of zingers for Chris.
    Dr. Dodd: (in an office setting) Why is that toy on your head?
    Chris: If I wear it anywhere else, it chafes.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: A major theme of the film — Mitch is the primary example, but Chris, Jordan, and Lazlo get to do some growing up by the end.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Kent winds up in a house being filled to the breaking point with laser-popped popcorn...and has an absolute blast. In fact it seems to give him a better disposition in the end.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Chris
    • Dr. Hathaway has his moments, especially in the scene where Mitch is introduced.
    Old Woman: "What is Mr. Einstein really like?"
    Dr. Hathaway: "Dead."
  • Disastrous Demonstration: Invoked by the heroes to ensure the space-laser will never be deployed.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Hathaway hates popcorn, and dogs. No points for guessing what his Humiliation Conga involves.
  • Fictional Counterpart: Pacific Tech for Caltech. What's really cool about it is that at first, Caltech was eager to help make the movie... at least until they learned it was critical of the Strategic Defense Initiative in general and Edward Teller in particular; as Caltech operates and manages NASA's neighboring Jet Propulsion Laboratory, they couldn't afford to critique the man, let alone be involved in a movie which cast William Atherton as his counterpart. But it all turned out perfectly anyway, as a Caltech alumnus came out of the woodwork to provide assistance - and load the film with Easter Eggs.
  • Foreshadowing: At the beginning of the movie, Kent tells Mitch that orders go "...from God, to Jerry, to me." Later on, "Jesus" talks directly to Kent, changing the middleman as it were.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: The plot centers around building a big one, for use in a Kill Sat. It behaves like a real laser, though.
  • Friendly Address Privileges: As the star pupil of the school, Chris is allowed to call Jerry by his first name. Kent isn't.
  • Genius Slob: Chris dresses like a beach bum and his room is a complete dump.
  • Genki Girl: Jordan is hyperactive to the point of not sleeping, never stops talking, and glomps Mitch almost as soon as he shows up.
  • Giant Food: Mitch is offered a cherry the size of a baseball by another student. "I grow them myself."
  • Give Me a Sign: Invoked on Kent, making him think "Jesus" is talking to him. Later played straight when he's standing outside Dr. Hathaway's house.
  • God Guise: Jordan implants a radio transceiver in Kent's braces, whereupon Mitch pretends to be Jesus to learn what Hathaway plans to do with the laser.
    Mitch: "And from now on, stop playing with yourself."
    Kent: "It is God!"
  • Hard Work Montage: Several, including Mitch settling in at the college and Mitch and Chris working on the laser.
  • Heroic BSOD: Chris has one once he learns the laser's true purpose.
  • Highly Visible Password: Lazlo's attempts to hack into the military computer are masked while typing, but then subsequently displayed anyways. PASSWORD: ###### (trying "AAAAAD"). This would likely be normal behavior for a brute-force script, as it would produce such comments as local notifications. However, it was shown that Lazlo was typing the entries by hand.
  • High School Hustler: Chris Knight, although this is in a university.
  • Hollywood Nerd: Chris, Mitch, Jordan, Ick... practically the entire student cast.
  • Humiliation Conga: At the end, for Hathaway. His project is ruined and likely going to be audited, which will uncover his skimming off the top to pay for renovations on his home. Said house has been destroyed... by popcorn, which he hates. And finally the dog that he can't stand shows up to commiserate.
  • I Ate WHAT?: The Trope Namer, though the actual example isn't related; Chris talks Mitch into tasting something, and when Mitch asks what it is, Chris says, "I don't know, I found it in one of the labs," then, after a lot of spitting, lets on he was joking; it's just yogurt. The actual Trope Namer comes from something Chris says later in the movie "I was thinking of the immortal last words of Socrates who said, 'I drank what?'"
  • The Insomniac: Jordan
    Jordan: I never sleep, I don't know why. I had a roommate and I drove her nuts, I mean really nuts, they had to take her away in an ambulance and everything. But she's okay now, but she had to transfer to an easier school, but I don't know if that had anything to do with being my fault. But listen, if you ever need to talk or you need help studying just let me know, 'cause I'm just a couple doors down from you guys and I never sleep, okay?
  • Insult Backfire: Chris delivers one to Dr. Hathaway:
    Chris Knight: "You unbelievable bastard."
    Dr. Hathaway: "Count on it."
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Mitch is fairly disconnected from the social scene due to his high intelligence being off-putting to others. Chris talks to Mitch about being much the same when younger.
  • Jail Bait Wait: Sherry Nugil attempts to seduce Mitch upon his sixteenth birthday. Her advances repulse him, however, because he's much more interested in Jordan.
  • Jerk Ass:
  • Jerk Jock: Kent is the closest you'll find at a school full of nerds.
  • Kick the Dog: Kent records Mitch's teary phone conversation with his parents and later plays it over the cafeteria loudspeakers to humiliate Mitch.
  • Kids Are Cruel: "They stuffed me into a mailbox — did I ever tell you that?"
  • Kill Sat: The film opens with a CIA mockup presentation of a laser beam used to conduct precise orbital assassinations. Hathaway has the contract to build the genuine article. However, the plan is not to put the laser on a satellite but aboard a shuttle that would launch, conduct an assassination, and then land.
  • Licked by the Dog: Hathaway. Naturally, he can't stand dogs.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Jordan, who bursts in on Mitch while he's in the bathroom and all but glomps him — entirely innocently; she wants to give him a sweater she knitted for him overnight. Part of her Character Development occurs when Mitch starts paying serious attention to her; she calms down and develops a personality other than "hyperactive girl".
    • Additionally, Chris acts as a Manic Pixie Dream Boy for Mitch, teaching him to loosen up and enjoy life instead of studying all day, every day.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Subverted by Mitch when he resists Sherry Nugil's advances, but promptly Double Subverted when he then proceeds to make out with Jordan, with the implication that they had sex or are at least now dating.
  • Men Can't Keep House: Chris Knight's half of the dorm room is an unabashed disaster area, even in comparison to the rest of the dorm.
  • Motor Mouth: Jordan tends to talk in long strings of sentences, with just barely enough of a pause to catch her breath when necessary.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Sherry Nugil seems to think so, as she sets out to seduce the ten smartest men in the world, and despite Mitch turning her down, eventually ends up with Lazlo.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • We never do find out much about Lazlo's big project in The '70s, aside from Chris mentioning that it hurt people and drove Lazlo into a Heroic BSOD.
    • There was apparently an incident where Chris found Kent naked with a bowl of Jell-O.
      Kent: I was hot, and I was hungry!
  • No OSHA Compliance: While the laser lab appears up to spec on the surface, some of the kids' practices while utilizing it are anything but. At one point, Chris handles supercooled materials with oven mitts and tongs, and is seen using a welder's mask in place of safety goggles. Most horrifyingly, when the five megawatt laser is fired, it goes through the cinder blocks, the wall, and halfway across town — it's a miracle nobody was killed.
  • Not What I Signed On For: The students were led to believe that the laser they were designing was meant for industrial applications, and Mitch's high-school science project was about their potential for fusion reactors. When they realize it's actually a Kill Sat, they are pissed.
  • Out with a Bang: Poor Professor Hostetler...
  • Positive Discrimination: The only member of the shadowy government agency that objects to the assassination laser plan is also the sole black guy. And then they "Liberate" him. Or is that "Liquidate"?
  • Running Gag: Mitch's classmates for one lecture keep disappearing, leaving recording devices in the room so they can skip class. Eventually Mitch is the only one remaining, as even the instructor has ditched class and left a tape playing in his stead.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Sherry Nugil is a variation. Out of the three scenes total that she appears in, two of them are spent as a willing love interest for a main character.
  • Shout-Out: "Drain Experts, Inc." and "Darlington Electronic Instruments" are references to... well, let's just say they're references and leave it at that. Enter if you dare.
  • Technological Pacifist: Lazlo (and also Chris and Mitch to some extent)
  • There Is a God!: Kent's reaction to hearing the voice of "Jesus" (actually Mitch through a transceiver in Kent's braces) telling him to stop playing with himself. Played for Laughs, although it does seem to convince Kent to have a Heel-Face Turn.
  • The Three Faces of Adam: Mitch Taylor is the Hunter, Chris Knight is the Lord, and Lazlo Hollyfeld is the Prophet.
  • Tropes Examined By The Myth Busters: You can pop popcorn with a laser. Popped popcorn doesn't exert enough pressure to destroy a house from the inside.
  • TV Genius: Averted, most of the kids, minus some hyperactivity disorders, speak rather like normal humans. Notable in the ice scene when Ick says that the ice is going to go from solid to gas and doesn't use the actual word for this process, sublimation.
  • Underdressed for the Occasion: At a job interview, no less. This is deliberate on Chris' part, however; he is trying his hardest not to be taken seriously, at least until Hathaway threatens to throw him out.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Pacific Tech seems to run on this, but it's most egregious in one scene when a student walks down the hall, right past Chris and co. wearing gas masks while gassing Kent's room, and merely says "hi."
  • Vanilla Edition: The sole DVD release doesn't have any deleted scenes, cast/crew commentary, or trailers or TV spots for the movie itself. But it does have trailers for Hook and Jumanji.
  • The Voice: Invoked. Jordan, Chris, Ick and Mitch stick a transmitter in Kent's braces to make him think God is talking to him.
  • You Remind Me of X:
    • Chris sees himself in young Mitch.
      Chris: You see Mitch, I used to be you. And lately I've been missing me so I asked Dr. Hathaway if I could room with me again and he said sure.
    • Later on, he sincerely expands on this; Intelligence Equals Isolation.
      Chris: When I was three years old, I balanced my father's checkbook. They sent me to school and fired their accountant. My father was so intimidated, he stopped speaking to me. My teachers disliked me because I was smarter than they were. My classmates hated me because I broke the bell curve. Sound familiar? My mother dressed me in white shirts, hush puppies and a briefcase, guaranteeing that no girl would ever talk to me.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: The second to last laser prototype that was successful until Kent sabotaged it.