VHS Revival Revisits John Hughes’ vastly underappreciated sci-fi comedy.
Weird Science may not be as memorable as Planes, Trains and Automobiles, or as iconic as The Breakfast Club, but it is still one of filmmaker John Hughes’ finest.
Hughes has a knack of appealing to teenagers and seems to understand what makes them tick, a fact that is prevalent in the dialogue he writes, which is both crudely accurate and consistently hilarious.
You know Gary, for the first time in my life; I don’t feel like a total dick. – Wyatt Donnelly
Weird Science is the story of a couple of high school losers named Gary and Wyatt, who decide to make a girl on their computer after finally accepting the fact that no mortal female will look at them twice. They are skinny and awkward in an environment saturated with nubile beauty, and as their hormones drip from their brows they begin to turn borderline perverse, resorting to wearing bras on their heads as they attempt to give birth to the woman of their dreams in a manner befitting the most depraved corners of Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory.
When the smouldering Lisa (LeBrock) explodes onto the scene, poor old Gary and Wyatt get just a little more than they bargained for, however. Far from the woman they can do what they want with, Lisa is a mischievous party animal who plans to take full advantage of the fact that Wyatt’s parents are going away for the weekend, and it is through her magical powers and immediate popularity that the two boys are able to get their sweat socks in through the door. But this is no free and easy ride to high school superstardom. After all, this is John Hughes we’re talking about, and you best believe that our unwilling heroes are going to earn the hearts of resident babes Deb and Hilly, currently the reluctant accessories of schoolyard alpha males Max and Ian, the latter of whom played by a young and cheeky Robert Downey Junior, whose real-life narcotic zest practically leaps off the screen.
When Lisa offers to shower with the boys only to find them too embarrassed to take off their jeans, our would-be-role model realises that she has her work cut out for her and decides to loosen them up by taking them to a local booze dive with their brand new fake IDs. This is the first of many scenes designed as a platform for Anthony Michael Hall’s considerable comedic talents, as he turns from drippy geek to stone cold gangster in the click of a finger.
Ma, I never tossed off to anything! – Gary Wallace
Previously cast in nerdy supporting roles, Gary’s character enables Hall to cross boundaries, and his performance is one of precocious mastery as he eats up every scene like a drunken dinosaur dressed to kill. Far from the the scrawny dweeb he was to become synonymous with, this boyish Brat Pack member was a notorious party animal and womaniser away from the screen, and Hughes is here able to channel that charm and energy to dazzling effect. Although Weird Science lacks some of the refinement of Hughes’ more recognised features, Hall’s performance as the cheeky, oppressed Gary is one of the finest he ever had the pleasure of putting to celluloid, and it is right up there with John Candy’s Dell Griffin, at least in comedic terms.
However, the movie gives us one more classic performance, and in Wyatt’s douchebag older brother Chet, writer and director Bill Paxton lends his moronic touch to a supporting role that threatens to eclipse the entire movie. Chet is the oppressive sibling from hell, a helplessly ignorant, chauvinistic jock with a brainless buzz cut and penchant for unabashed extortion. Halls’ is the superior performance due to the comparatively small amount of screen time afforded to his fellow cast member, and there is an argument that Chet’s character is too one dimensional to go any further than Hughes allows it to, but with what he has to work with Paxton achieves miracles, and every misdirected philosophy and moronic belch is transformed into pure comedy gold.
Here’s the bottom line, Wyatt. I’m telling mom and dad everything. I’m even considering making up some shit! – Chet Donnelly
Chet only has a handful of lines in the movie, but each is immortalised in turn. Paxton would go on to much more serious roles, and would eventually prove himself a writer and director of considerable talent, but this is hands-down his most memorable contribution to the movie world, a fact that was all but confirmed when he was quizzed by a British newspaper on the part people seem to most remember him for. The answer was categorically Chet, and almost three decades on fans still approach him in the street asking him to repeat specific lines of one of the most quotable supporting characters of the era.
Thanks to its science fiction leanings, Weird Science is much more than just your typical run-of-the-mill coming-of-age comedy, and director John Hughes takes full advantage of its surreal edge, packing the screenplay with the kind of quirky gimmicks and idealistic scenarios that appeal to its target audience. By the end of the movie, the house has been raided by killer mutants and Wyatt’s party-pooping grandparents have been left catatonic in a closet, while the house itself has been skewered by a nuclear missile which proves a phallic obstacle in Max and Ian’s failed attempt to create another Lisa. Add to that your usual dose of teenage promiscuity, with just a pinch of female nudity, and you have yourself a bona fide cult classic of the strictly adolescent persuasion.
You know, there’s going to be sex, drugs, rock-n-roll… chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high school orgy type of thing. I mean, uh, I’m not talking candlewax on the nipples, or witchcraft or anything like that, no, no, no. Just a couple of hundred kids running around in their underwear, acting like complete animals. – Lisa
Hughes is a director of great craft and care, and he invariably makes the right decisions in regards to an age group that he manages to achieve an uncanny affinity with. His messages are trite and impractical and often contrived, but he never condescends to his audience. He speaks to them using their particular language, and provides the kind of gilt-edged wish fulfilment that teenagers crave as they attempt to come to terms with their adolescence and the very real and unforgiving prospect of adulthood.
With perhaps his most cherished film The Breakfast Club, he explored teenage alienation and the destructive expectations of both parents and peers alike. Weird Science never attempts to tread such dark social grounds, but behind the cussing and the sexism and the outright perversity, there is a moral message about how kids should treat one another if they are ever to truly win the respect they invariably crave, and in the sumptuous Lisa they are able to overcome the insidious social structures which breed and develop and often oppress their way into our adult lives.