Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Remembering the Revenge of the Nerds

The Urban Dictionary defines a nerd as someone whose IQ exceeds his weight. Note the gender implied by the pronoun “his”: the assumption here is that nerds are males, though wimpy ones. They’re smart, particularly in the so-called STEM fields, but not socially adept, and hardly of much interest to the opposite sex. For a recent example, see Sheldon (played to a T by Jim Parsons), the awkward young physicist on the twelve seasons of TV’s The Big Bang Theory. But do note he eventually managed to find true love with a female of the species, neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik).

 In 1984 the term “nerd” was in only limited use. But Hollywood studios had recently enjoyed major success with such rowdy campus comedies as Animal House(1978) and Porky’s (1981). And Twentieth Century-Fox, flush with cash from its Star Wars franchise, decided it could gamble on a tax write-off with the low-budget Revenge of the Nerds. This sweetly raunchy romp, which pulled in a nice chunk of change for Fox, makes its beleaguered nerds into campus heroes. That’s not how they start out, however. Lewis (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert (Anthony Edwards) are thrilled to be matriculating at Adams College, supposedly the best computer-science school in the nation. This is hardly Caltech, though, where big-time sports and female students remain almost non-existent. Adams College (played in the film by the University of Arizona) is pretty much run by its rah-rah football coach (John Goodman in an early role). And the campus is swarming with jocks and sexy coeds, all of them affiliated with Greek houses. Because of careless, nasty pranks pulled by frat boys, incoming freshmen like Lewis and Gilbert lose their campus housing and must sleep on cots in the gym. For self-preservation they band together with other frosh nerds (like a frizzy-haired violinist, an innocent from Japan, a stylish gay guy, and a boy genius) to form a fraternity of their own.

 The nerds end up shaking off the schemes of the jocks and using their own offbeat smarts to win the Greek Games and carnival. No one in this film ever seems to do something as mundane as attending classes. Education comes by way of social interaction, even with girls. Though the nerds do connect with a campus sorority made up of awkward and unattractive female outcasts, their biggest pleasure comes from electronically bugging the Pi Delta Pi house, then watching over video as its cuties casually disrobe. (One later exclaims, in horror, “A nerd saw me naked!”) At least one nerd later puts his knowledge to good use, proving himself to be a surprising stud with the most bodacious young woman on campus, who happily gives up her handsome blond quarterback boyfriend for him. So there!  

Most of the tricks played by the nerds on their tormentors are funny rather than disgusting, though they do resort to dousing the jocks’ jockstraps with liquid heat. By the time they stage a razzle-dazzle musical show for the student body (complete with fireworks, rock violin, electronic effects, and breakdancing), we’re firmly on their side, and glad to respond to the campus cry that “We are all nerds!” while Queen’s “We are the champions” blasts out on the soundtrack

  The DVD I watched included a jubilant reunion of most of the cast, including star Robert Carradine (who in real life responds far more to race cars than computers). The two biggest names in the production, John Goodman and James (back then Jamie) Cromwell, didn’t show for the taping.  But I suspect a good time on set was had by all.


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