Saturday, June 7, 2014

My Science Project


  I'll never pass up a chance to talk about this movie. This movie is such an under-seen gem that if I have to publish a new review of it every year, just so people will notice... I will. When I was younger, I would boast to my friends, "This movie has everything! Dinosaurs! Roman Gladiators! Post apocalyptic mutants! Alien warp engines! Viet cong soldiers! You name it!" Of course, seeing as how I saw this in third grade, the reaction was usually "whats a postal-pocket-lip-tick?" Even worse, when I finally coerced a friend into watching it... he burst out laughing at the scene with the T-Rex. An entire generation... spoiled by Spielberg and his realistic looking dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Dammit Steven.

  As I got older, my love for this movie didn't change or diminish. Seeing it still makes me feel 9 years old all over again. A simpler time when even antiquated Harryhausen-esque effects still could illicit my "ooh"s and "ahh"s, and most importantly, capture my imagination. Which this movie still does. However, I will say this- those hoping for an 80's phantasmagoria of wild special effects will probably be bored by most of the movie. It's 3/4ths a high school comedy, and 1/4th a crazy sci-fi adventure. Also, the cast and crew never went A-List. Unlike movies like The Goonies, or Weird Science, My Science Project is helmed by a relative unknown. The guy's only four directing credits were Theodore Rex, this movie, an episode of CBS summer playhouse, and a couple episodes of the Nightmare on Elm St. tv show, Freddy's Nightmares.

  Then we have the star, John Stockwell. His only notable role was probably Cougar in Top Gun, and then poof. He's been in a bunch of TV stuff, and then directed some movies, but he was never insanely popular or anything. So I understand why this movie didn't really hit it big. It's pool of recognizable talent is very small. In fact, the only major star in the entire production is Dennis Hopper. Who actually seems like he's just playing himself... as a high school science teacher (named Bob). Which is pretty friggin awesome, and frequently hilarious. Yet despite all this, the cast has great chemistry, and someone forgot to tell the screenwriter that this script was going to an A-list production. All the jokes and gags are funny, the dialog is on-point and witty, and the pacing is pretty relentless. This is the big 80's sci-fi comedy that never got anywhere. That doesn't mean it's not awesome though.

  The movie is about high school grease monkey Mike Harlan and his little problem in science class. Teacher Bob doles out the ultimatum: "No (science) project... no diploma, babe." Harlan 'can't do anything' scientific, all he's into is cars- see? So he sneaks into an old military junk yard to find something he can fix up and pass off as his project. He ends up stumbling across a mysterious crate... with an even stranger object inside. As it would turn out, the 'gizmo', as they become fond of calling it, is actually the engine to an alien spaceship that crashed there in the 40's or 50's. Of course, he thinks he's hit the jackpot, but in reality he's just doomed the town. Accidentally opening up a time-space warp inside the high school, creating a real problem for the entire world as we know it. Mike and his buddies go through tons of trouble trying to shut it off, which makes for some real fun scenes.

  Overall this movie is just plain fun. It's completely on-point with the teen comedies of the era. It would be on par with genre classics like Back to the Future if it had a bigger budget. I think the budget is probably the biggest problem here. Don't get me wrong, they stretch that budget til it doesn't look cheap. But the adventure in the climax, probably should've been most of the movie instead of just relegated to the climax. As a result, the movie feels sort of like a tease. Yet I enjoy the characters enough to enjoy the whole film without issue. It's not a perfect movie, but it's a damn fun one, and one I wish more people would see.

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