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Weird Science (1985)

by on 2011/09/03

“Should we give her a brain?”

* *

I often think of science fiction and fantasy as divergent, even opposite, genres. Weird Science’s blend of both suggests they’re at least difficult to reconcile.

The thing is, I should like it more than I do. As one of the few remaining unseen features by late writer/director John Hughes, I was hoping for it to be a discovery of something fresh yet familiar.

The story concerns a pair of nerds firmly rooted in the 1980s: Gary (Pirates of Silicon Valley’s Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith). Inspired by a colorized Frankenstein (1931), they use a personal computer and, apparently, an early form of cloud processing to create the perfect woman, Lisa (Kelly LeBrock).

Rather than act as their physical plaything, she uses her supernatural abilities to help them to grow up. In some cases, she solves their issues with friends and family; in others, she enables them to do so themselves. In her care, they ostensibly learn about confidence, courage, and carousing.

Many of Hughes’ customary signatures are here: the suburban house, the alternative music posters and soundtrack, a heavy focus on school, a shower scene, a perfume counter, a wild party, sports cars, racing the parents home, and even rapid-fire speech as in Uncle Buck. And the cast includes some future stars, including Robert Downey Jr. (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and Bill Paxton (Tombstone).

However, just as often it feels it has nothing to do with Hughes. Critics bemoaning his Home Alone run need to give Weird Science another look. The on-the-nose jokes — for example, the party buffet — are more par for the course in a sitcom. The script’s exploration of fart humour leaves me baffled and disturbed. Unlike much of his output, the emotional end is unearned.

Even when I shifted into fantasy mode, it all got too surreal. I can forgive the quaint idea that hacking is like playing a game. In an era when Tron, WarGames, and The Last Starfighter represented technology’s potential, we shouldn’t be surprised. Still, their computer creating Lisa is a little bit far-fetched. (At least in 2002‘s critically-drubbed S1M0NE, the titular heroine is virtual.)

That Lisa might break the fourth wall, I accept. That she would be endowed with the ability to manipulate people, places, and things at will is extreme. But even assuming an Einsteinian intelligence . . . that the world would spawn Road Warrior mutants, that dogs would walk on ceilings, that snow would fall indoors, that bras would be worn as hats, and that Gary and Wyatt would listen to Depeche Mode (101) or the Human League . . . uh, no, just no.

In one particular case, things get downright offensive. An early scene in the Kandy Bar has Gary getting drunk on Blind Dog bourbon and improvising lines. His tall tales, delivered in an embarrassing pastiche of jive and Ebonics cliches frankly made me twist inside.

The movie doesn’t have a clear identity, either goofy or sensitive. In doing both — and neither of them well — it fails in whole and in part. It isn’t even endearing as a comic fantasy, as seen in the Jimmy Stewart film Harvey. This ludicrous fiasco has more in common with Casino Royale (1967).

By the end, I decided the Frankenstein reference was not only thematic, it was ironic. Weird Science is a messy, shambling failure to meld teen flicks with proto-geek chic. It never works, and it never comes to life. The usual insight of the auteur John Hughes reveals no spark or depth in his nerds. Stereotypes are unusual for him but, unfortunately, that’s all they are.

It’s a sad-making entry from a filmmaker I usually enjoy. Sorry John — rest your soul, you’re a giant in my mind — but this misfire is utterly wretched dreck. Knowing it’s ridiculous doesn’t keep it from being ridiculous. I doubt I’ll ever watch this one again. It goes far beyond disappointing. It’s among the worst I’ve seen this year.

It’s more than stupid; it’s stooopid.

Yes, with three letter “o”s.

* *

Rated PG13

94 minutes

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