Real Genius is right up there with The ‘burbs as one of my very favorite guilty pleasures from the ‘80s. Actually I’m not even guilty about it, because it’s awesome, and I shall duel at 50 paces anyone who says otherwise. What’s not to like about Real Genius? You’ve got a young Val Kilmer at his very most Val Kilmeriest. You’ve got quotable lines like: “Why is that toy on your head?” “Because if I wear it anywhere else, it chafes.” You’ve got a government-contracted laser used to explode a man’s house with popcorn. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
But in all my viewings of Real Genius, I never once suspected that it was secretly an M. Night Shyamalan twisty thriller, some 14 years before anybody knew what an M. Night Shyamalan twisty thriller was.
We’ve seen a lot of these genre-shifted trailers in recent years, but I have to give props to this one. The key to making these things work is finding scenes or images that, when removed of context, can suggest a totally different mood than what was intended. I never would have thought you’d be able to find enough to turn Real Genius into a thriller, but there you are. The man in the closet. The classroom that becomes more and more empty. The smoking hole in the statue.
Of course, Real Genius doesn’t go off the rails spectacularly in the third act. Which means it couldn’t actually be a Shyamalan movie. Maybe that’s the twist…