MY MOM just sent me a list of 10 kids (me included) who made the Super Duper Honor Roll back in my high school. And I decided that nine of them were real nerds, all of which is by way of introducing "Real Genius," a teen comedy aimed at smart misfits coming of age.
Like many of this summer's movies, "Real Genius" embraces the final minority, variously known as geeks, Goonies and computer nerds. Whatever you call them, the calculator cowboys -- the last of the Great American Zeroes -- are becoming national heroes.
So far this season, cinema nerds (as distinquished from movie nerds who just go to movies) have built a backyard spaceship, programmed the perfect woman and located buried treasure to save the day. Like its cousins, "Real Genius" focuses on solving problems through science and relies heavily on special efffects and tolerant teenage audiences to win success.
Neal Israel and Pat Proft, who cowrote "Police Academy" and "Moving Violations," set their new outcast comedy in an eccentric academy for brilliant boys and girls. It's an optimistic but largely disappointing tale with unknowns Val Kilmer and Gabe Jarret as a couple of teenage scientists who prove themselves by saving earth from space terrorism.
Jarret plays a 15-year-old laser physicist who matures under the tutelage of his roommate Kilmer, a frantic, disillusioned genius who regains his self-respect through the friendship. Wearing deely-boppers and bunny slippers, Kilmer is the unofficial social director of the school, organizing such events as the "Invitational Tanning Tourney" with guest participants from the Wanda Trossler School of Beauty.
Jarret is a momma's boy with a severe overbite who hasn't quite grown into his body, much less his nose. But he does get a girl, a hyperkinetic engineering student played by the adorable Michelle Meyrink, who previously worked for "Genius" director Martha Coolidge on "Valley Girl."
The villain in all this is an ambitious professor involved in a secret weapons project with a mysterious, government splinter group (thereby playing off our post-Watergate paranoia). He uses the two boys, along with other gifted young scientists, to complete a laser- powered weapon that can locate and zap a single human target from the heavens. Instant coup.
The kids, along with a computer genius who burned out in the '70s and lives in a steam tunnel under the dorm, eventually unmask the professor and plot his downfall using a laser beam and a megaton of Jiffy popcorn.
Unfortunately, the film's director, despite 20 years of eclectic film experience, isn't a reel genius. Many of the scenes, already badly written, fail to fulfill their screwball potential. "Real Genius" should be applauded as a higher class of passage movie. But despite its enthusiastic young cast and its many good intentions, it doesn't quite succeed. I guess there's a leak in the think tank.
REAL GENIUS (PG) -- At area theaters.