Back-To-School: "Revenge of the Nerds" Review

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

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Back-To-School: "Revenge of the Nerds" Review

Rating: R (Restricted)
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: July 20, 1984
Directed by: Jeff Kanew
Genre: Comedy

Best friends Lewis (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert (Anthony Edwards) are gigantic nerds who completely accept the fact they aren't popular. All they want is to go to college and get their degrees, even though they know they will likely face obstacles. They encounter many more obstacles than they bargained for on their very first day in their new college dorms. It seems the Alpha Betas, led by jock Stan (Ted McGinley), have accidentally burned their frat house down to the ground. So, they invade the freshman dorm and take over, leaving Lewis, Gilbert, and a whole host of other nerds and misfits homeless.

Lewis and Gilbert are eternally optimistic, so they strike out to find a new place to live. They settle on a decrepit old house and fix it up, inviting the meek Poindexter (Timothy Busfield), exchange student Toshiro Takashi (Brian Tochi), gay man Lamar Latrell (Larry B. Scott), and stoner Booger (Curtis Armstrong) to join them. The problem is that the Alpha Beta guys and girls from the Pi Delta Pi sorority continue to torment them, seemingly just for the sheer entertainment value. The nerds decide that if they want to be treated as equals, they must become a fraternity. The problem is that no current fraternity wants them, so they find a loophole in the charter of Lambda Lambda Lambda (or Tri-Lambs for short), who give them a shot.

Unfortunately for the nerds, the tormenting continues as Stan and the Alphas try to thwart the Tri-Lambs in their attempt to establish a fraternity. The milquetoast nerds have finally had enough, and they use their brains to launch a plan that will not only get them full membership into Lambda Lambda Lambda but also humiliate the Alphas and Pi Delta Pi at the same time. Although Lewis begins to develop a crush on head sorority girl Betty (Julia Montgomery), the nerds don't let that stop them. They finally stand up to their tormenters during the climax of the film, which is something of a revenge fantasy for every nerdy boy and girl who was ever bullied by jocks.

Several movies of the 1980s featured gawky, geeky teenagers who aspired to be the popular kids in school. These movies usually focused on the journey that the teens took to achieve their goals of becoming something they weren't. Most of the time, the geeks either became the popular guys and the movie had a happy ending, or they realized they missed being geeks and the film still had a happy ending after they returned to their nerdy ways. "Revenge of the Nerds" completely upends this story by allowing the nerds to truly embrace who they are. These nerds don't want to become the roguish jocks of the Alpha Betas at all, they just want to be left alone to be who they are. It's a nice switcheroo on the underdog-movie-character trope that was so popular during this era. It also called out to millions of nerds the world over to be proud of who they are and to stop being bullied by the jocks who tormented them. It would be years later before nerds were actually embraced by society, but "Revenge of the Nerds" helped make them a little more acceptable.

The film pushed the boundaries of what was socially acceptable in films at the time in terms of raunchiness. Surprisingly, it isn't just the Alpha Betas who are being raunchy. Indeed, the Tri-Lambs install video cameras in the women's sorority bathroom and then spend hours watching the live footage. Also, it's Lewis who doesn't object when Betty mistakenly thinks she is making love to her boyfriend, and it's Booger and company who take topless pictures of Betty and sell them surreptitiously as part of a pie sale. Today, these types of antics would probably be frowned upon in film, but at the height of the 1980s romp movies, they were acceptable, even if they did push the envelope a bit. It's surprising to find such shenanigans in a film that champions nerds, but that is part of the fun of the film.

The movie also worked to further the careers of many of the stars in it. Carradine was already a mainstay in film and television, but Anthony Edwards was just starting out. He went on to act in hits such as "Gotcha!" and "Top Gun," before becoming the lead in the long-running TV medical drama "ER." Timothy Busfield, who is almost unrecognizable behind thick glasses, went on to become a television star. It seems as if "Revenge of the Nerds" not only made the world a better place for nerds but also for the actors who portrayed them.

Rating: 3 out of 5