Breaking the mold

Released smacked dab in the middle of a decade steeped in formula comedies (the 1980s), by a director known for his mastery of formula comedies (John Hughes), “Weird Science” actually takes some fairly original turns. It starts outlandishly enough with a geeks-create-ultimate-computer-woman premise, which leads to a set of adventures that typically don’t occur in the suburban teen/high school romance landscape that defines much of Hughes’ ’80s work.

To be sure, the main protagonists, the aforementioned high school geeks played by Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith (who?), could be found in an assortment of Hughes films, as could upperclassman bully Robert Downey Jr. Throw in some minor eye candy love interests and major eye candy Kelly LeBrock as the computer-generated bombshell, and we have what producers rightfully would judge to be an offbeat but surefire hit.

And it doesn’t stumble. Downey has his comic moments, and Hall delivers the line that any guy would be wise to borrow when making his move, as Gary assures his human love interest that the fantastical Lisa (LeBrock) “is everything I ever wanted in a girl… before I knew what I wanted.” And who in 1985 wasn’t strutting around their college dorm chortling to “every damn night?” and “in the family jewels!” Good, but not great.

Enter Chet.

This guy is the game-changer. As Wyatt’s (Mitchell-Smith) bullying older brother played to perfection by Bill Paxton, Chet elevates the script from pleasantly amusing to deliciously ludicrous. Mixing juvenile boorishness with a military sense of family discipline, Chet emerges as Wyatt’s chief tormenter and in doing so supplants Downey as the film’s primary antagonist.

Long before the contemporary view of bullying and its tragic consequences came to light, the bully challenge was a common plot device serving to test any worthy protagonist. The idea was that once the protagonist stood up for him- or herself, the bully would back down, representing a simplistic but necessary growth in character that moves the plot forward. Gary and Wyatt do this twice — albeit with some magically powered assistance from Lisa — at first dispatching Downey, then vanquishing a motorcycle gang in what’s probably the weakest plot turn of the movie. They do not, however, get the best of Chet. Only Lisa has the power to handle the lout who grinningly announces his desire to “butter your muffin.”

Frank Burns proved that any truly successful comedy needs a bad guy. “M*A*S*H” wouldn’t have worked without him — in fact the series faltered considerably in the seasons after his departure as script writers struggled mightily to score zingers off of lesser nemeses. Kevin Kline in “A Fish Called Wanda” also comes to mind. But Chet is in his own league as I would not recommend “Weird Science” were he not in the film. As it happens, he is, and I can happily give it my blessing.

Clip 1

Quotable: “I’m even considering making up some shit.”

Watch for: The awesome move going back into his room.

Clip 2

Quotable: “For Christ’s sake will you cover yourself?”

Watch for: Keep your eye on the towel.

Clip 3

Quotable: “You die, she walks out of here with a severe limp.”

Watch for: Eenie-meenie-miney-moe with the gun barrel.

Clip 4

Quotable: “I didn’t think it was a whale’s dick, honey.”

Watch for: The (not-so) furtive belch. I’ve challenged myself to keep a straight face through this scene, but when that happens, I’m gone.


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