Real Genius is a 1985 satirical comedy film directed by Martha Coolidge. The film's screenplay was written by Neal Israel, Pat Proft and Peter Torokvei. It stars Val Kilmer and Gabriel Jarret. The film is set on the campus of Pacific Tech, a fictitious technical university in the United States similar to Caltech. Chris Knight (Kilmer) is a genius in his senior year working on a chemical laser. He came to the university as a somber, assiduous student but mellowed over time after deciding that there is more to life than just work. Mitch Taylor (Jarret) is a new student on campus who is paired up with Knight to work on the laser. Mitch is much like Knight used to be, and has trouble settling in. Eventually, Knight teaches Mitch how to enjoy himself and live on campus without "burning out". The film received positive reviews from critics. The film grossed $12,952,019 at the United States and Canadian box office.
The film begins with a video presentation in which a space-based laser weapon incinerates a man on the ground with pinpoint accuracy. The CIA has contracted with Professor Jerry Hathaway (Atherton) to develop this secret weapon with his team of brilliant students at the elite university Pacific Tech. When the Agency demands a more powerful laser, Hathaway recruits 15-year-old high-school science prodigy Mitch Taylor (Jarret) to study at Pacific Tech and help with the project. When he arrives on campus, Mitch is assigned a dorm room with Chris Knight (Kilmer), a senior who is supposed to be working on the laser project but prefers to party and goof off. Mitch also meets fellow student 'Ick' Ikagami; Jordan (Meyrink), a hyperkinetic female student with whom he falls in love; and the mysterious ex-graduate-student Lazlo Hollyfeld (Gries), who appears and disappears via Chris' closet. The laser team's current leader, Hathaway's subservient graduate assistant Kent (Prescott), becomes hostile to Mitch when Hathaway puts Mitch in charge of the project. Chris increasingly distracts Mitch from his work until Hathaway discovers Mitch at Chris's pool party. After Hathaway scolds Mitch, Kent records Mitch's tearful telephone call to his mother and plays it over the cafeteria PA system at lunchtime. Chris and Mitch retaliate by disassembling Kent's car and reassembling it in his dorm room. Later, Hathaway threatens to flunk Chris out of Pacific Tech, so Chris finally returns to his work. His efforts appear to be ruined when Kent sabotages the laser, but in a fit of anger at the laser's destruction, he has an epiphany that solves the project's power problem. The beam of the redesigned laser is "hotter than the sun" and produces the required five megawatts of power. Hathaway forgives Chris completely. While the laser team celebrates their success, Lazlo points out that the laser only has a use as a high-energy weapon. They discover that Hathaway has removed the laser and decide that it must be destroyed. After they implant a radio transceiver in Kent's braces, Mitch speaks with Kent through the transceiver, posing as the voice of Jesus, and learns from Kent that the laser will be tested soon. Meanwhile, Ick follows Hathaway to a nearby Air Force base, where the laser has been installed on a B-1 Lancer bomber. Chris and Mitch talk their way into the base, and while working in unison with Lazlo, they crack the laser's computer and change its target coordinates to Hathaway's house, where the students have placed a retroreflector and a huge tin of popcorn, which Hathaway intensely dislikes. They call the Dean of Pacific Tech and the local congressman to witness the weapon firing and Mitch orders Kent to visit the house. When the laser hits the house, it shines through a stained-glass window, convincing Kent that he is having a religious experience. The popcorn expands, the house bursts at the seams, and popcorn pours out of the cracks, pushing Kent along with it.