Weird Science (1985, John Hughes)

Weird_Science_051

Spoiler warning: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Two teenage boys create the perfect woman on their Memotech MTX512 home computer, and she throws a massive party to boost their popularity…

Kids:

* Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall, in his third straight John Hughes teen comedy) is the slightly more go-getting of the two 15-year-old leads. He and his pal Wyatt fancy a couple of girls at their school, but have no chance of pulling them. Gary also talks about having a girlfriend in Canada – not unlike Brian’s Niagara Falls conquest in The Breakfast Club, she’s clearly made up. While staying at Wyatt’s house for the night, the pair watch 1931 movie Frankenstein on TV (which was specially colourised for its use here). It gives them the idea to create a woman from scratch, so they feed pages of magazines into a slot in Wyatt’s computer – models for looks, Einstein for brains, Beethoven for talent, David Lee Roth for attitude. They also decide on breast size (“Anything bigger than a handful,” advises Gary, “you’re risking a sprained tongue…”) and brain capabilities (‘Intelligence level: 5th grade, slow learner, boring dipshit’). They then… somehow… hook into some kind of embryonic internet and steal the power they need. For the basis for the woman’s body, they use a Barbie doll; for atmosphere, they light candles and put bras on their heads. (All this is in the first 10 minutes of the film, by the way.) Remarkably – you might even say implausibly – the experiment works, and after a series of strange goings-on in the house and surrounding area, the boys see a beautiful, sexy woman in front of them. They name her Lisa and she takes them to a seedy blues bar, giving them fake IDs so they can get in. Gary gets tipsy but somehow charms the regulars with stories of his teenage troubles. (One of them is about the “big titties” of a 13-year-old girl. The 1980s, eh?) Lisa then throws a massive party – the kind of well-attended, anything-goes bash at a huge house that was seen in Sixteen Candles – but Gary hides in the bathroom with Wyatt. This is a problem when their crushes from school, Deb and Hilly, want to come in just after Gary’s used the loo. After Gary fends off some thugs, he and Deb get together and he drives her home the next day in a Ferrari that Lisa’s dreamt up.

* Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) is spending the weekend without his parents because they’ve gone away, so invites Gary to sleep over. After the night out to the bar with Lisa, Wyatt returns home to find that his older brother, Chet, has returned from college. The pair don’t get on and Chet enjoys bullying Wyatt. Before bed, Wyatt and Lisa share a tender moment and she teaches him how to kiss. At the party the next day, Wyatt’s nerves result in him hiding in the bathroom. But he soon makes a connection with Hilly, then stands up to a scary gang of party-crashers. Wyatt and Hilly later kiss, and he takes her home the morning after the party.

* Deb (Suzanne Snyder) and Hilly (Judie Aronson) are the two students who Gary and Wyatt fancy. Bored of boyfriends Ian and Max, they attend Lisa’s party and get to know Gary and Wyatt.

* Ian (Robert Downey Jr) and Max (Robert Rusler) are the school bullies who torment Gary and Wyatt early on: pulling their shorts down in the gym, throwing a slushy over them in the mall. When they spot Lisa, they’re bewitched – but stunned to find that she’s with Gary. (“She likes the rough stuff,” says Gary as an explanation. “What can I do?”) They also attend the party, mostly to be close to Lisa – but she resists their advances, saying she belongs to Gary and Wyatt. So they apologise to the boys for the bullying, hoping to negotiate a loan of Lisa (in exchange for Deb and Hilly!). As a compromise, Gary and Wyatt show them how to make their own Lisa (“Bigger tits!” they demand). However, the process creates chaos during the party – photographs come to life, the kitchen turns blue, a partygoer gets trapped in a TV, rooms flip upside down, and a girl has her clothes ripped off (they cast a former Playmate of the Month). Their efforts fail to produce a perfect woman, though, because they forget to hook up a Barbie doll. Instead, it creates an enormous missile (because… plot).

* Chet (Bill Paxton) is Wyatt’s oppressive older brother. He extorts cash from Wyatt, and generally enjoys tormenting both him and Gary. He’s especially perplexed when he sees Wyatt wearing Lisa’s underpants, but just uses it as a way of getting more hush money. He’s out on the night of the party but returns to the mess it’s created. So Lisa deals with him by magically turning him into, well, an anthropomorphic pile of shit. “Why do you have to be such a wanker?” she asks. She also says she’ll only change him back when he promises to treat Wyatt better.

Adults:

* Lisa (Kelly Le Brock) is initially dressed in the same crop-top-and-knickers combo that the Barbie had on and (for some reason) has an English accent. She’s beautiful, sexy and confident. Her fairy-godmother mission is to make sure the two boys have a great time and become more popular. She also has magic abilities: she can change people’s clothes instantly, conjure up cars out of thin air, switch lights on with her mind, put people into catatonic states… “Mary Poppins with breasts,” is how Le Brock once described the character. When she sexily asks Gary and Wyatt, “So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?”, they say they want to shower with her. However, unlike Lisa, the boys aren’t brave enough to strip off, so wear their shorts. When she asks for a name, Gary suggests Lisa (after a girl he used to fancy who kicked him in the nuts because he spoke to her). The next day, she decides to throw a party at Wyatt’s house and invites as many people as possible. Realising Gary and Wyatt need more confidence, she then creates a gang of savage punk bikers to terrorise the partygoers with the idea that the boys can defeat them. (Gary and Wyatt initially hide in a cupboard, then come good.) The final scene of the film sees Lisa take her place as a gym teacher at the school. When her class of boys all faint, she winks at the camera. Le Brock certainly looks the part, and she’s not terrible exactly. But it’s a shame that an actress with more comic talent – Kim Basinger maybe? Kirstie Alley? – wasn’t cast instead. Le Brock wasn’t first choice, incidentally. Model Kelly Emburg, who was then going out with Rod Stewart, worked on the film for a couple of days but was then dropped.

* There are numerous staff and customers at the bar Lisa takes the boys to. One of them is played by John Kapelos from Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.

* Al and Lucy Wallace (Britt Leach and Barbara Lang) are Gary’s parents, who Lisa meets when she comes to collect Gary for the party. It’s a terrific comic scene. They’re flabbergasted by how mature and forward she is, then shocked by both her plans for the party and the way she talks about Gary’s masturbation habits. When Al threatens to call the police, Lisa pulls a gun on him then casts a spell so he forgets that he’s got a son.

* Henry and Carmen Donnelly (Ivor Barry and Ann Coyle) are Wyatt’s grandparents, who decide on a whim to pop in and see him. They’re unhappy that a party’s going on, so Lisa says, “You ought to know better than to walk into somebody’s house and start hitting people with your Rex Harrison hat!” She then freezes them and puts them in a kitchen cupboard. Their rictus grins are terrifying.

* The gang of post-apocalyptic bikers include Vernon Wells, formerly of Mad Max 2 and later the schizoid bad guy in Commando, and Michael Berryman from The Hills Have Eyes.

* Mr and Mrs Donnelly (Doug MacHugh and Pamela Gordon) are Wyatt’s parents. They return home at the end, just as the last of the party mess has been magically tidied up.

Close-ups: When Gary and Wyatt have a conspiratorial conversation about Deb and Hilly, we see it as a series of extreme close-ups of their mouths.

Music: The catchy title song is by Oingo Boingo, a band that included film composer Danny Elfman. It includes sound bites from the 1931 Frankenstein, echoing that movie’s use in the story. Kim Wilde’s Turn It On features briefly. A snatch from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells scores Gary and Wyatt waking up and wondering whether Lisa’s creation had been a dream. We hear the intro from Van Halen’s cover of Oh, Pretty Woman as Lisa rides an escalator, blows a kiss at Ian and Max, and generally distracts every lustful man (and one woman) she passes. The up-tempo Eighties by Killing Joke plays at the party. The final scene uses a bit of rousing incidental music from Rocky.

Beatles references: None.

Review: “There’s going to be sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high-school orgy thing. I mean, I’m not talking candle wax on the nipples or witchcraft or anything like that. No, just a couple of hundred kids running around in their underwear, acting like complete animals.” Weird is the word. What an insane film this is. It’s part shameless wish-fulfilment for teenage boys, part madcap comedy. But after the articulate angst of the previous two films, Weird Science’s *tenuous* connection to the real world is a real shock. John Hughes wrote the script – very loosely based on a story from 1950s comic book Weird Science – in two days, and sadly it shows. While generally good fun in a switch-your-brain-off way, it’s astonishingly slipshod. Things happen ‘just because’. Lisa is a character with magic powers who can basically do anything she wants, and all she wants to do is please Gary and Wyatt. Not exactly drama through adversity, is it? “When are you gonna learn people like you for who you are, not for what you give them,” Lisa says to the boys at one point, soon after she’s spent an hour engineering happiness for them so they don’t have to achieve it themselves. The film’s latent sexism is difficult to excuse too. There’s fun to be had, though, with the 1980s attitude to computers (ie, that they can do anything: also see WarGames, Superman III, DARYL…). A mess, but a broadly enjoyable one.

Seven greasy pork sandwiches served in a dirty ashtray out of 10

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