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July 18, 2017

Revenge of the Nerds

by Franz Patrick


Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
★★★ / ★★★★

Best friends Gilbert (Anthony Edwards) and Lewis (Robert Carradine) head off to Adams College with the hope of being treated much better for being intellectuals. After the Alpha Beta house, home of the football players, burns down, Gilbert and Lewis, along with their fellow nerds in the freshman dorms, are forced to live in a gym until they find appropriate housing. Soon a rivalry between the jocks and the nerds erupts when the latter group decides to form a fraternity and take over the school council. Being in the council means power and the jocks will not go down without a rumble.

“Revenge of the Nerds,” written by Steven Zacharias and Jeff Buhai, is funny and poignant seemingly without effort. It is an accomplishment because it draws upon strict stereotypes so one can almost expect by-the-numbers charades of the protagonists being tortured, humiliated, and eventually rising up from the ashes to deliver the antagonists’ much needed comeuppance. Although it touches upon these expected elements, the picture is able to rise above them because the humor has a good-hearted spirit. It makes fun of everybody—including the nerds who we are supposed to root for.

Infantile humor is abound, from burp contests and jock straps to panty raids. But instead of simply being gross and embarrassing, these scenes actually work because they are shot with verve and performed with commitment. The jokes appear left and right, one scene right after another so the audience is at a constant high. Because it is able to consistently entertain, we look forward to the next scene and the surprises it has to offer.

The picture might have been improved upon if there had been more substance to Lewis and Gilbert’s friendship. During the first fifteen minutes, we sense their closeness but it is almost immediately dropped right after the first act. Thus, when the two share a would-be touching moment toward the end, it comes across as false and flat. It would have been nice if the two shared a memory or two from high school and the details of them being bullied. Sure, it might have been a downer but at least there is a reminder that their friendship is central to the film. It gets carried away with fun and games at times.

The secondary nerds are all memorable, from the prepubescent kid genius (Andrew Cassese) to Booger (Curtis Armstrong)—no explanation necessary. They are punchlines, sure, but the recurring jokes that they lead have a freshness to them. Since each one is some kind of stereotype, there is a risk that we will grow tired of them. Here, the line is not crossed. We want to see more of these guys. Particularly memorable is Takashi (Brian Tochi), a recent immigrant from Japan with an obsession with “hair pie.”

Directed by Jeff Kanew, “Revenge of the Nerds” stands the test of time because of its bona fide sense of humor and ability to surprise consistently. There is a musical number here that made me feel so joyous because of its creativity and self-awareness. Most importantly, all outcasts—not just nerds—will be able to relate with the picture somehow. The screenplay is smart enough to point out an undeniable truth: Those in the “out-crowd” far outnumber those in the “in-crowd” so maybe bullying the the “un-cool” might not be such a great idea.

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