Revenge of the Nerds

Revenge of the NerdsI think watching this movie must be kind of like an inside joke, in that you had to be there to get it. In this case, you had to be a high schooler or college student in the 1980s to appreciate the humor…I guess. Maybe once upon a time this movie would have been funny, but I found it to be dull and tedious, with jokes as blunt as a cardboard knife and all the subtlety of a sledge hammer. The few bright spots seemed more accidental than anything, but again, something had to have worked or else Revenge of the Nerds would have probably died a quick death instead of spawning a series of sequels.

In theory the premise has promise: a bunch of socially awkward college nerds band together to fight the oppression of the big-time fraternity on campus. One imagines it might feature lots of jokes about outcasts turning the tables on the frat dudes, jocks receiving a well-deserved comeuppance, and a healthy dose of fish-out-of-water gags. But it’s all so contrived, so thinly-packaged, and so poorly executed that the whole thing collapses on itself.  The nerds are about as stereotypical as one could imagine: Lewis and Gilbert, best friends armed to the teeth with highwater slacks and pocket protectors, are the leaders of the motley pack of misfits who get kicked out of their dorm to make way for the dudes of Alpha Beta fraternity, who accidentally burn their own house down during a night of wild partying.  The nerds are forced to live in the school gym until they find their own house, and eventually band together to form the Adams College chapter of the Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity.  But darn it, those mean Alpha Betas keep picking on them (just like in high school, which apparently no one in the movie has gotten over) and the nerds decide they have no choice but to fight back at those dumb old jocks who keep ruining their fun.

Revenge of the NerdsIt’s a setup that seems ripe for comedy, but the problem is that most of the humor just falls flat.  Every one of the nerds seems to have been borne from a checklist of stereotypes, which leaves little room for actual characterization.  In the gym, as the nerds are settling in to their new accommodations of army cots and basketball-induced study interruptions, the asian nerd Takashi (Brian Tochi) asks the slacker nerd Booger (Curtis Armstrong) “Excuse please, but why do they call you ‘booger’?”  And of course Booger simply replies “I don’t know” while he picks his nose.  Oh, I get it, says the viewer.  They call him booger because he picks his nose!  Har dee har.  Painfully obvious setups and fourth-grade-level punchlines permeate the entire film, and midway through I was honestly checking the clock to see just how long until the misery would be over.

Many scenes just reek of sheer laziness on the part of the writers, such as the party thrown by the Nerds to convince the ruling members of the Tri-Lambda council to accept their admittance into their fraternal order.  The party goes nowhere, and consists of a series of amusing awkward moments when the nerds attempt to be social, but it’s not until Booger produces a joint straight out of a Cheech and Chong movie that things start to liven up.  Really?  Is that the best they can do?  With all the ripe character potential at their disposal, the filmmakers take the cheap way out and instead play for the lowest common denominator: laughing at people under the influence making fools out of themselves.  Gee, how funny.

Like Caddyshack, Revenge of the Nerds was probably funnier in its time than it is now, and I fully admit that much of the comedy is probably lost on me–someone who came of age with movies like Ghostbusters, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and later, Office Space.  And one day my children are probably going to watch them and wonder what the big deal was with those movies too.


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