The Remake Police: Real Genius

In case anyone is wondering, this is why I got into the blogging business.

i love toxic waste too!

i love toxic waste too!

Because anywhere else, if I told someone, “I’m going to write 1,500 words about Real Genius,” one of two things would happen:

1. I’d be fired.

2. A boss-type would ask, “What the hell is Real Genius?” then fire me before I could answer. So I’d be embarrassed about my pure, unadulterated passion for a marginal, oft-forgotten 80s campus comedy with an identity crisis — and I’d also be fired.

But last last week when I was talking about the overabundance of 80s movie remakes and hypothesized some others due for an overhaul, I specifically thought of Real Genius — but decided to leave it off the list. While I’ll always say it’s one of the top 10 comedies of all-time, it’s got big problems. There are more issues with this movie than with Tiger Woods’ marriage. Then why was I mad when it was announced this week there will be a remake?

So we’re starting a new feature here at PopRox, THE REMAKE POLICE, a sporadic discussion of whether a movie/TV show/song should be remade or not. We’ll do three arguments for, and three against, then determine which arguments are stronger and come up with a decision on whether something should be remade or not, starting today with Real Genius, one of the most underrated comedies of the 80s. Because if you don’t think this isn’t funny, there could be something wrong with you:


–Whoever financed Real Genius seemingly decided 40-year-old cameras that captured D-Day footage were good enough for this production, so it looks like complete s— today. Quite possibly the worst quality of any 80s movie, no matter what format you see it in. Some of the fancy camera angles are completely distracting. It’s just very poorly made from a technical aspect.

wait, i forget. who is who's wingman again?

chris knight, meet maverick. maverick, chris knight.

The hysterical riot of a script is also mish-mash of sci-fi, tech wizardry and smart-people talk that turned off 99 percent of the country when it came out, and rightfully so. When Marty McFly ran off screaming, “What the hell is a gigawatt?” we all laughed because we have no idea what a gigawatt is either and we don’t care. In Top Gun, we don’t care about Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis talking about inverted Gs because it’s extraneous to the plot. But the terminology in Real Genius — highlighted by unintelligible phrases like “coherent light” and “excited bromide in an argon matrix” — was just glossed over like we’re all supposed to know what that means and it’s entirely important to the plot. Is there anyone who knows what an argon matrix is? I don’t even have the energy to Google it. What did people in 1985 do? I understand the legend, that this actually happened at Caltech, so they wanted to stay close to the story. But if you’re expecting a comedy crowd to stand for things like, “one killajule per cubic centimeter at 600 nanometers or one megajule per liter,” you’re in for a rude awakening, my friend.

–As if the tech-BS wasn’t enough to keep anyone from seeing it, the last half-hour completely diverges from the fun and playfulness of the first 75 minutes and dives into the intricate plot of breaking into an Air Force base, introducing and reintroducing insignificant characters and lighting the primary villain’s house on fire while making sure the secondary villain is in said house.

The end.

Huh? If anyone brought that script to a studio right now, they’d get laughed out of LA. What is this movie? Is it a raucous, smart campus comedy with an endless supply of quotable lines, or is it a military thriller? Is it Animal House for smart people, or is it No Way Out for young people? Did anyone even bother asking that question in 1985 before the cameras rolled?


Val Kilmer’s Chris Knight is one of the funniest movie characters of all-time and it’s Kilmer’s career-best role. Batman, Jim Morrison, John Holmes … forget it. Chris Knight killed them all. It was the perfect lightning-in-a-bottle infusion of great script, great character and great actor. Kilmer wasn’t megastar, destined-to-play-Batman Val Kilmer in 1985. He was just “the guy with poofy hair from Top Secret!” Despite everything you can point to that’s wrong with this movie, Hollywood saw the same thing Real Genius fans saw with Kilmer — a charming, likable, precocious, genuinely funny young guy on the cusp of a mammoth career. Nothing he did in this movie was wrong. It’s arguably the best comedy performance of the 80s when you consider he had no talent around him and had to carry the entire movie. Every scene he’s not in, the quality of that scene goes down at least 50 percent from his scenes. No one can replace Kilmer in this role. REPEAT: No one. Same goes for William Atherton as Dr. Jerome Hathaway. In fact …

geez, can't this guy play someone good?

geez, can't this guy play someone good?

–Consider that two of the biggest 80s villains worked together as some kind of supervillain hell-bent on destroying the super-smart kids. Like, somewhere along the way someone said, “These kids are too smart — we need to add a second villain or people will think it’s too easy for them!” William Atherton already was entrenched as the “crusty old dean”-guy that every college movie needs after a late-breaking villain turn in Ghostbusters as Walter Peck, the guy who Peter Venkman said had a missing piece of anatomy. He then went on to be secondary villain Richard “Dick” Thornburg in Die Hards 1 and 2. So the guy has villain blood. He got teamed up in this villainous plot with Robert Prescott, who already bummed everyone out in Bachelor Party. So when you’re recasting the movie, do you keep the two-villain premise? Or do you stick with one, as is now the practice? My guess is they’ll go with one, because two villains confuses the audience. That will completely eff up this movie to the point where it will be nearly unrecognizable.

–The Real Genius soundtrack is the one of the four best 80s soundtracks that never produced a hit of its original music, with Karate Kid, Teen Wolf and Rad.  It’s surprisingly classic. There are three hits in there — the biggest being Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears — but none of them were made specifically for the Real Genius soundtrack. The studio people must have gone to Don Henley and said, “Can we use All She Wants to Do is Da–?” and before they finished, he said, “Write me a check.” But two original songs in particular — “I’m Falling” and “Number One” — should have been legitimate, releasable songs. After you watch this movie, guaranteed, you will be walking down the street two days later and you’ll randomly start singing “I’m fallin, falling …” I went about five years without watching this movie from, say, 1999 to 2004, and the first time I saw it again, I still knew every word to these songs in the Team America-esque montage sequences. One more interesting note as I looked over the track listing for the soundtrack — I’m pretty sure the order the songs appear on the soundtrack is the order they appear in the movie. WHO DOES THAT??? I can’t tell if that’s genius or just crazy lazy, but I can’t name one other movie soundtrack that does it. And it never even got released! If that’s not cult enough for you, I don’t know what is.


Like I said, this was one of the first things that came to my head when I was thinking about 80s remakes because there is so much wrong with this movie. The second it gets remade, and it doesn’t matter who is doing it, the movie as a whole gets better because there is no way they’d repeat the same glaring, distracting mistakes. There would be better actors so that 20 years from when the new version is released, we wouldn’t have to say, “Man, hasn’t Gabe Jarrett done anything else since then?”

this is the ONLY chris knight

this is the ONLY chris knight

But there are parts of this movie that are too pure, too funny and too impossible to imitate that make it impossible to pull the trigger on a remake. And Kilmer … well, the second he heard the remake news, he should have been on the horn to his agent trying to come up with a popcorn-in-the-house-type plan to make sure a remake never, ever happens. This, Top Secret and Tombstone are the enduring legacies of his career and anyone who tries to step into Chris Knight’s bunny slippers will be a crumpled-up shell of what Kilmer did. Every college-aged lead possibility for Chris Knight should head for the hills, like, yesterday, to make sure their managers can’t try and push this part on them. They will fail in every way.

And because of that, because there should never be another Chris Knight other than Val Kilmer, The Remake Police give a big, fat NO to a remake of Real Genius.

Now let’s all just enjoy the original:

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