Updated: Oct 13, 2020
In a nutshell: Tired of being high school losers with no girlfriends, Wyatt and Gary decide to create the ultimate woman, Lisa. She is everything they wanted; beautiful and smart, with the ability to give practically anything the boys desire. However, it isn’t long before things spiral out of control…
John Hughes is seen as the Godfather of the “teen” genre. Hughes had an uncanny talent to create believable teenagers, most with their own quirks and insecurities. They were characters that many a boy or girl could relate to – providing they were white and middle class. Hughes films are full of iconic moments that define the ‘80s and would arguably influence the decades that followed.
It’s hard to talk about 1980’s movies without mentioning him – Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off usually crop up on most ’80s inspired montages/watchlists. Uncle Buck and Planes, Trains and Automobiles both deserve honourable mentions but obviously don’t fit into the teen genre.
Weird Science is a bit of a, well, weird one. Whilst it still holds a special place for many (mainly males who discovered it in their teens) – it’s arguably John Hughes least liked “teen movie”. Essentially it’s a modern-day take on Aladdin, with two protagonists for the price of one, and a genie taking the form of a Playboy pin-up. Or “Mary Poppins with breasts” as Kelly LeBrock would fittingly describe it.
The opening scene establishes all we need to know about Gary (Hughes regular Antony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith). Firstly, they’d like girlfriends but don’t have the confidence to approach them and secondly, they’re easy targets for the high school bullies (Robert Rusler and some guy called Robert Downey Jr...).
With Wyatt’s parents away for the weekend, they decide to do the obvious and create the ultimate woman using Wyatt’s computer and a Barbie doll…. It’s fair to say that the actual science in Weird Science doesn’t hold water but let's remember this was less tech-savvy times when home computers were an exotic luxury. Back in the 1980’s science fiction film logic wasn’t as scrutinised today – there was an element of make-believe whimsy that audiences were happy to go along with.
“So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?”
We’re very quickly introduced to Lisa (Kelly LeBrock), the perfect woman. LeBrock may be instantly objectified but she proves to be the film’s MVP. She’s everything the film needs her to be, beautiful, smart, funny, charming and seductive. It’s not surprising that the film’s title in other countries rightly put her front and centre, from The Explosive Girl (Spain) or the amusingly sounding Cool Magic with Lisa (Germany). Looking back, it’s a real shame LeBrock didn’t go on to bigger things – other than becoming Mrs Steven Seagal for a time, obviously.
The other character guilty of scene-stealing is Wyatt’s brother Chet, played with sadistic glee by the late, great Bill Paxton, in one of his first screen roles. Paxton always excelled at playing annoying characters you love to hate (also see Aliens or True Lies) but Chet truly is a monstrosity – the bullying older brother from hell. Part of me wonders whether his militaristic, pro-gun, bullying traits on a comment on Right-Wing America, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.
Whilst a lot of fun, outside of the main trio, the rest of the characters are thinly sketched. The relationships with the two female love interests are questionable – it’s never explained what Wyatt and Gary see in the girls or vice versa. It’s fair to say that time has not been kind to this film – the plot of two teenage boys being groomed by an adult woman certainly wouldn’t fare well in today’s gender-conscious climate.
There’s also the questionable moments of handling race – namely the dive bar scenes early on where we’re treated to a cringe-worthy “jive-pimp” impression from Antony Michael Hall. Apparently, he and Hughes were big fans of Richard Pryor’s stand up and it’s a homage to that. Later on in the film, at the party, one of the “friends” they made at the dive bar is seen working the bar (to intimidate RDJ and co), assumingly under Lisa’s employ.
Whilst there’s great banter between the leads, it definitely lacks the heart and depth of Hughes’ other teen films – likely due to the red-blooded propensity of the plot.
The more laddish tendencies could be attributed to its producer – after all this is a Joel Silver production. Silver would go on to produce some of the biggest (and the most macho) action films of all time; Predator, Commando, Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, to name a few. His involvement may also explain why a nuclear missile turns up in the final act.
Another potential reason for the film’s flaws is Hughes’ commitment to the film. It’s said that he only made it so in return Universal would let him make his passion project – The Breakfast Club. Ironically, The Breakfast Club was released first and made twice as much money at the domestic box office. The fact that Hughes wrote and directed Pretty in Pink, Weird Science and The Breakfast Club – all in the space of 15 months, is a pretty impressive turnaround for any filmmaker.
Weird Science is definitely one John Hughes lesser films but there’s a lot to enjoy. The central concept may have dated but it’s brisk, escapist fun, with some solid performances. It’s an inherently ‘80s movie through and through, for both good and bad reasons!
Alternative title: Gary and Wyatt’s Magic Sex Robot
MVP: Kelly LeBrock may be eye-candy, but she’s also giving a funny and commanding performance.
Would you like to know more? Listen to our podcast review here!