Amuse — it means, without thought. Sometimes you want to just relax, laugh, and not have to think too hard. However, I do appreciate it when an amusement has some intelligence and talent to it. For times like that, the movie (now on DVD), “Real Genius” is exactly what I’m looking for.
Yes, that’s a photo of Val Kilmer — a very young and blond Val Kilmer. Even as a young man (1985), Kilmer had the ability to BE the role he played, and in this movie he is a brilliant and quirky college student in Southern California (at “Pacific Tech” instead of Cal Tech, like in “War of the Worlds”). It is one of those movies where the idealistic and very intelligent kids take on the bad-guy adults. Thing is, this one has some basis — it’s the CIA funneling money through a college professor (William Atherton) for weapons research, while the students only know it to be an interesting challenge and passing grade. It was the sort of thing that happened a lot, before students became more cynical and aware. William Atherton does an excellent job being a pompous, despicable jerk. I read that after he played the EPA official in “Ghostbusters,” people kept picking fights with him in bars.
Gabe Jarret plays the straight new-genius-on-campus to Kilmer’s irreverant, creative, about-to-graduate character. They share a dorm room, and when Jarret arrives he says something about being there earlier (to Kilmer, who is sitting in his very messy (even by male college student standards) half of the room).
“You didn’t straighten up?” Kilmer asks.
“No,” Jarret responds.
“Good. All my filth is in alphabetical order. This was under ‘H’ for toy.”
Okay, so it doesn’t sound all that funny in print. But the way these two play it, it brings a grin to my face every time. There is also the biology nerd who grows cherries the size of bowling balls, and the engineering nerd who never sleeps and sands her floor at 2 a.m. Most mysterious of all is the long-haired, bearded man who comes and goes through their closet. [I’ve heard they are considering a remake of the movie, with Val Kilmer playing the mysterious Lazlo Hollyfeld.]
From the opening credits (offered over a montage of weapons plans, beginning with the sling shot and ending with the atomic bomb) and through to the end, this movie invites you to have fun, laugh a little with relief at no longer being that age, and remember how idealistic you may once have been. It’s simplistic in the way most movies are. Yet it is done with enough talent to make it quality, simple amusement. (Rated PG.) I give it a 4.