My computer errors just give me the blue screen of death.
Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) are teen geeks in Shermer, Illinois, sex-obsessed but with zero prospects. One night, the boys think to create a female computer sim, hoping to ask her about sex or to write her into sick, demented situations to see what she’ll do (really). Instead of just creating a new A.L.I.C.E. bot, their simulation somehow summons a hurricane, breaks the internet, and conjures a magical woman named Lisa (Kelly LeBrock) whose only desire is to fulfill all of theirs. Lisa is ready for sex, but decides to set the boys up for popularity long term instead, throwing a huge party for them which is wrecked, of course, by the nightmares inherent in magic science (nuclear warheads and mutant bikers.) The boys confront the bikers, earn the school’s respect, and win girlfriends. Her work done, Lisa leaves the boys so she can take a job as a highly inappropriate gym teacher.
In the early 1980s, Hollywood mega-producer Joel Silver acquired the film rights to all titles published under the banner of EC Comics. EC (the ‘E’ stands for Entertaining) thrived during the 1950s, specializing in genre anthology books back when you could actually write comic stories with no superheroes without losing your shirt. EC’s diverse catalog included Tales from the Crypt, Mad Magazine, and a lesser known title called Weird Science. Silver approached John Hughes about developing these titles into features, and Hughes eagerly accepted. Hughes had grown up on EC books and was keen on adapting Weird Science for teens.
Hughes wrote the script for Weird Science in a brisk two days, hanging his story loosely on “Made of the Future,” a story from the comic that revolved around a robot woman. Hughes shot Weird Science immediately after his smash hit, The Breakfast Club, casting Club star Anthony Michael Hall in his third straight film for Hughes. Although Hall would take the lead role in a Hughes picture for the first time—and pass up the chance to reprise his role as Rusty Griswold in National Lampoon’s European Vacation—this would be the last film Hall would do for Hughes.
To match the film’s frantic tone, Hughes filled the movie with catchy, synthesized tracks from new wave and alt-pop gods like Killing Joke and Wall of Voodoo, but the standout is the title song by the band Oingo Boingo (featuring Danny Elfman, just a few years before he locked eyes with Tim Burton from across the party and left pop music behind forever, even though pop music had been totally good to him and he’d never find anyone better in the big city.). “Weird Science” is an infectious tune—all ‘80s—and cobbled together from references to the classic mad-scientist movies that Weird Science longs to be. The song is so intertwined with the film that its power continues to grow even today; as contracts expire and the film loses music rights, the easy fix is to add more “Weird Science” (for example, the finale once used the Rocky theme as its audio exit joke, but the rights are gone, and so on DVD today? Science!)
Gary and Wyatt are the nerdy misfits that should be harassing the lead in another Hughes movie, so they require a special kind of misfit to bedevil them, and one of their creation: Lisa, the super computer magic genie sex goddess. Although supposedly the girl of their dreams, Lisa is more like the girl of their id, continuously daring the boys to man up, slap their superego down, and lose their pants when showering with someone who looks like Kelly LeBrock. Their digital “dream girl” terrorizes Wyatt’s grandparents, pulls a gun on Gary’s parents, and nearly unleashes science-fueled Armageddon on small town Shermer, Illinois, all in the name of making the boys a few friends. The residents of a quiet Earth can be thankful the boys didn’t think to ask for unlimited power, or else the nerds would rule the world.
Weird Science is mostly free of sugar-coating; its one supposedly “sweet” scene is less syrupy than deeply disturbing. On her first night of life, Lisa, who you’ll recall was literally created for sex, provides alcohol for Wyatt, gently makes out with him, and then takes him to bed (although it’s later revealed that Wyatt is too drunk to succeed.) Sweet? OK, now replace Wyatt with a 15-year-old girl and switch LeBrock with 1980s Patrick Swayze, his rock-hard abs moist with sweat from all the ass he was just kicking at the Road House. Still sweet? Or something you should get out of your house right fucking now before the Feds arrive?
A few movies exist that, in order to really love them, you just had to be there. By “there,” I mean that a person had to be the right age, in the right year, and seeing the film at the right time. For example, Superman and Superman II have never done a thing for me. I saw them too late in my life and for me they’re just silly and dull. For other people, The Goonies is a terrible, possibly offensive film, but one that I happen to love because I saw it at the right age. You can guess where I’m going with this when I say that I had never seen Weird Science before starting this Project. Wherever and whenever I had to be to like it, I wasn’t there.
Weird Science is supposedly a fluffy, safe teenage comedy about two undersexed nerds shaking off their geek stink to get the girls and a life, all with the help of a GUI Mary Poppins who offers her ample breasts in place of a spoonful of sugar. Unfortunately, I can’t find that movie. Sure, there are mutant bikers and rancid troglodytes and Robert Downy, Jr. and that guy who had his face burned off in Babylon 5 wearing bras on their heads, but there’s some real weirdness going on here, and it ain’t the science.
Let’s skip right past the movie’s magical internet, which looks like the Lawnmower Man’s screensaver and can supposedly create living flesh from nothing by being turned up to 11. I’m ignoring that. It’s “weird.” I get it. No, what’s really unusual to me is how nobody suggests that—like Alfonso Cuaron’s teen heroes in Y tu mama tambien, who Gary and Wyatt most remind me of—maybe all the boys really need is each other. Like many of John Hughes’ heroes, the boys live in a world removed of authority (Gary’s parents have only a token appearance and forget their son at the wiggle of Lisa’s nose ), and so they cling to each other, spending every waking (and sleeping) minute together, mostly boasting to each other about how straight and horny they are, working each other into a sexual lather that literally creates another person to contain it. By the time Lisa shows up, programmed with pedophilia, she’s the least sexually awkward figure in the room.
Don’t mistake me, I’m not arguing that this subtext hurts the movie. In fact, several films have been greatly improved by searching for their hidden meanings, intentional or otherwise (I’m looking at you, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2). The problem is that there isn’t enough movie here to hold all of these impulses together. Hughes went too broad once again, an urge that also betrayed him in Curly Sue and in his late-career kiddie films. He made the choice here to reconfigure the comic’s Outer Limits-like morality stories into a frenzied fantasy entry into the 80s teen sex genre, which had kick-started just a few years earlier with Bob Clark’s Porky’s. The good news for Hughes is that, despite my 2010 eyes finding what probably isn’t there, he still pushed all the right buttons for 1985. The film was a huge success, made tons of fans, and today is warmly remembered as one of the highlights of his career. Again, right place, right time.
The bad news is that Weird Science hasn’t aged as well as the other Hughes’ films, and Hughes’ films haven’t aged particularly well. Without the comforting haze of nostalgia, all I can happily take away from the film is LeBrock’s fiery, sexually empowered performance and a fleeting glimpse of Bill Paxton (as Wyatt’s brother, Chet) on the cusp of becoming a star. Otherwise, all I see is a bunch of ideas with nowhere to go, and too many truly awful moments (the blues bar, the gun-pulling incident at Gary’s house, the mutant bikers) to give the film’s subtext something to hang on to. In the end, the film is just too… too… weird.
The John Hughes Project
7. Weird Science
8. Curly Sue