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WEIRD SCIENCE, 1985
Starring: Kelly LeBrock, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Bill Paxton, Suzanne Snyder, Judie Aronson, Robert Downey Jr, Robert Rusler, Michael Berryman
Two unpopular teenagers, Gary and Wyatt, fail at all attempts to be accepted by their peers. Their desperation to be liked leads them to "create" a woman via their computer. Their living and breathing creation is a gorgeous woman, Lisa, whose purpose is to boost their confidence level by putting them into situations which require Gary and Wyatt to act like men. On their road to becoming accepted, they encounter many hilarious obstacles, which gives the movie an overall sense of silliness.
Music has always played a large part in contributing to the success and legacy of a teen movie. Some examples: Simple Mind’s Don’t You (Forget About Me) immortalised the final scene in The Breakfast Club; Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay on a train in Risky Business to the touch of Tangerine Dream; The choreographed ‘Echo and the Bunnymen’ opening scene in Donnie Darko; Heath Ledger channelling Andy Williams in 10 Things I Hate About You; John Cusack’s iconic scene in Say Anything with the boombox and Peter Gabriel…it goes on.
Oingo Bongo’s title song for Weird Science has to be a definite addition to the list – an inception into what is, surely, Hughes craziest film. Factoring in his ‘coming of age’ panache with a dose of science fiction and fantasy leaves one with plenty of suspended belief. Of course, when you’ve got a story about two teens creating their perfect woman in the comfort of their surreptitious bedroom, one has to immediately surrender to the film’s diegesis.
Since the release and success of films such as Meatballs and Porky’s in the earlier 80s, many production companies vied to churn out further teen sex comedies, complete with wafer-thin plotlines and ironically, little sex. Weird Science, on the contrary, feels like a parody on this movement. From the moment Lisa (LeBrock) enters the silver screen, standing in a cut-off t-shirt and framed in an ethereal doorway of magenta light; the audience is already being teased by the director’s orchestration. Moments later, we find the two male protagonists (in just their boxers) watching the back of LeBrock in the shower; observing, rather than participating. This is a further joke on our part. Let it be refreshing to note that the Hughes’s film was always focused on generating laughs, rather than giving a derivative excuse for the “T & A” that other comedies aimed for.
Of course, the script has its fair share of suggestive moments, such as when LeBrock ‘offers’ herself to a terrified Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell Smith). But this is a Hughes ride - at its core, the jokes are benevolent and never fall into distasteful thresholds of brashness. And as the tagline on the film’s poster mentions, ‘It’s purely sexual,’ which is more of a jokey comment on LeBrock’s appeal than the film’s content.
Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell Smith make a wonderful team, adding relatable dimensions and candour to their characters. Throughout, their banter is consistently amusing with Michael Hall enforcing better sarcasm and sustainable wit in Gary than with his previous nerdy caricatures. Even more impressive, however, is the lesser known Ilan Mitchell Smith. The combination of his squeaky voice, innocence and wry delivery (“He can’t stay this way Lisa, it’ll ruin Christmas!”) subtly steals the film from his companion. The Lady In Red, Kelly LeBrock, with her one-liners and sultry upper-class English accent, is terrific as the pneumatic mentor to the boys; the epitomised dream girl and iconic poster girl. We also have the genius casting of Bill Paxton à la George Peppard cigar as Wyatt’s obnoxious older brother, Chet. His scenes, although short and infrequent, are often laugh out loud funny (check out the improvised ‘opening’ of his bedroom door).
Weird Science also proves that Hughes is as capable at directing as he is with writing. In tune with the film’s off-kilter style, he doesn’t hesitate to experiment with a number of odd techniques. One select example involves quick cutting and close up shots of the boys’ mouths as they converse in a military fashion (ending on a cheeky grin by Michael Hall). Ambitious? Perhaps…but only Hughes could have pulled it off with such flair that the scene becomes one of the film’s many memorable moments…not forgetting the Cat in the Hat-esque finale. Naturally, as the film progresses, the boys encounter increasingly silly obstacles in their search for girlfriends, such as angry bikers, indoor blizzards, frozen grandparents, a pershing missile and a young Robert Downey Jr. Yes, Weird Science is a bonkers story…but an undeniably brilliant one, particularly when you’ve created an excuse for Bill Paxton to be transformed into a talking monster.
Like most teen films of the 80s period, it is rather easy to nitpick and highlight its flaws, both in style and story structure (kids easily hacking into a government database). Yet, cinema is all about escapism, and this is an 85 minutes that any casual watcher or film fanatic would want to disappear into. Weird Science, after 25 years, is still so much fucking fun. A quintessential example of Hughes’ stratospheric ability as both Writer and Director.
May you rest in peace, Sir.