REVENGE OF THE NERDS (Jeff Kanew, 1984)
eternal war between the athletically and academically inclined rages on
in REVENGE OF THE NERDS with jocks asserting their superiority until
the brainiacs fight back. The unlikely leaders in this turn of events
are entering freshmen Lewis Skolnick (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert
Lowell (Anthony Edwards), best friends who are eager to get started at
Adams College. The school’s computer science program is among the best
in the nation, and the female-to-male enrollment ratio holds the promise
that they might engage in some extracurricular studying of anatomy as
and Gilbert’s initial enthusiasm is doused when the upperclassmen of
Alpha Beta accidentally burn their own house to the ground and claim the
freshmen dormitory as their new home. The administration addresses the
problem by allowing homeless new students to join fraternities and move
into Greek housing. Unfortunately Lewis, Gilbert, and a handful of
other social outcasts--violinist Arnold Poindexter (Timothy Busfield);
nose-picking, self-declared rebel Dudley “Booger” Dawson (Curtis
Armstrong); openly gay Lamar Latrell (Larry B. Scott); Japanese student
Toshiro Takashi (Brian Tochi); and twelve-year-old Harold Wormser
(Andrew Cassesse)-- fail to be accepted anywhere and must continue to be
lodged in half of the gymnasium.
relentless optimism and resourcefulness leads them to a battered house
available for rent. They tidy it up, and all seems well except they
continue to be harassed. Campus security and the Greek Council, led by
one of their main Alpha Beta tormentors Stan Gable (Ted McGinley),
refuse to intervene since they are not an officially recognized group.
a close reading of a historically African-American fraternity’s bylaws,
they secure probationary approval to become a chapter of Lambda Lambda
Lambda, although it remains to be seen if they’ll muster the support to
make it permanent. Finally, it looks like they’ve found their niche,
but the Alpha Betas and women of Pi Delta Pi humiliate them yet again.
Enough is enough. The nerds must have revenge.
OF THE NERDS has some laughs at the expense of its awkward heroes but
typically holds them in high regard, especially in comparison to the
brutes and snobs who pick on them. While the film trots out some
unflattering stereotypes--Lamar is a floppy-wristed queen, and Toshiro
substitutes his l’s and r’s--the tone is not exactly mean-spirited. The
fellow nerds accept one another unconditionally regardless of what
makes each of them social pariahs. For example, Lamar’s friends develop
a javelin that compensates for his limp wrists. The redesigned
equipment lets him excel in one of the Greek homecoming games essential
to the Tri-Lambdas survival. This hardly qualifies Lamar as an
enlightened or respectful portrayal of a homosexual, yet overall the
film doesn’t make him a target of derision. It’s not a lot, but it’ll
do in this context.
the nerds perpetuate a nasty streak of behavior toward women that
violates the film’s general live-and-let-live attitude, and it stains
what is otherwise intended as raunchy but lighthearted fun. Revenge on
Pi Delta Pi comes in the guise of a panty raid that distracts from the
nerds rigging the sorority’s bathrooms with multiple cameras that
transmit live feeds back to the Tri-Lambs. Even allowing that a film
such as REVENGE OF THE NERDS exists for a little titillation, the scenes
of the Lambda Lambda Lambda guys sitting in their living room watching
for hours as the women undress and bathe are very tawdry. From the
leering comments they make to the pornographic-like presentation of the
nude women, the cruelness underlying these moments exceeds causing mere
embarrassment over being seen naked. In fact, most of the women are
unaware they’ve had their privacy invaded.
not the worst of it. Lewis fixates on head Pi, and Stan’s girlfriend,
Betty Childs (Julie Montgomery) and deceives her into having sex with
him when she believes he’s her boyfriend. A point of view shot behind
his mask reads more like a horror film stalker sizing up his prey even
though it’s intended to play up the supposed hilarity of the situation.
Rather than being horrified upon discovering what has transpired
between them (or to her), Betty praises Lewis’s lovemaking skills.
Never mind that as this is going on his brothers are doing brisk
business at a booth selling whipped cream pies on plates bearing a
topless photograph of her. Incredibly, Betty tosses aside her brawny
lad for some geek love in the end. REVENGE OF THE NERDS laughs off
these shenanigans as boys just being boys, but it’s far too creepy to be
considered amusing in the least.
aside the unsavory elements, REVENGE OF THE NERDS is dumb entertainment
executed in mediocre fashion. Rather than getting familiar with the
seven nerd protagonists, none of whom are drawn beyond caricatures, the
narrative keeps an intense focus on the predestined outcome in the
competition between Alphas and Lambdas. The lone bright spot in their
battle for control of the Greek Council features the nerds offering a
rare display of ingenuity as they impress with their musical talents. The rest of the time it’s a series of tame, thinly conceived gags. The
belching contest, seemingly a centerpoint for a film like this, is
comprised of two combatants letting it rip once each. How far
mainstream Hollywood movies have come since 1984.
note: Although not of any consequence to the film, keep an eye out for
John Goodman, in one of his first movie roles, as the football coach
and James Cromwell, billed as Jamie, as Lewis’s equally nerdy dad.)