Normally, I write these articles on Friday, sometimes posting them at literally the last minute. If I’m feeling on top of things, it’s Thursday and the kids are in bed. Right now, it is Sunday evening. I passed a lazy afternoon watching movies and concluded with this one, and I knew that not only did I have to write about it for the column, I had to do so right away so I didn’t forget a single bonkers moment.
This is the first of the Dexter Riley (Kurt Russell) movies set at Medfield College. (Though it was Russell’s eighth movie and sixth for Disney.) Dexter and his friends are spying on a meeting of the dean and various other college executives. They discover that, no, they aren’t going to get a computer, and also Dean Higgins (Joe Flynn) wants to kick them all out of school. They manage to arrange for local businessman A. J. Arno (Cesar Romero) to donate what turns out to be a third-hand computer, by the time they get it, which he then announces will be in lieu of his planned $20,000 donation. Then a weird thing happens, Dexter is zapped by magic computer powers, and he develops the ability to remember everything. Which turns him both insufferable and highly sought after.
In order to gain a hundred thousand dollars for the school, Dean Higgins decides that the school should field a team for Knowledge Bowl. Which makes sense. But eventually Dexter feels all awkward about being the one to answer literally every question, so he asks teammate Schuyler (Michael McGreevey) to answer one using the information Dexter passes him, and Schuyler can’t even do that. Nor can Henry (Frank Welker) or Token Black Guy Myles Miller (Alexander Clarke). It makes me wonder why he chose them to be on the team. Okay, it’s a running Thing that Dexter and his friends aren’t the brightest, but Pete Oatzel (Frank Webb) and Dexter’s girlfriend Annie (Debbie Paine) are a lot smarter than Schuyler and Henry.
Actually, Annie’s smarter than Dexter, from what I can tell, but still. It’s a little weird to me that some of these characters even got into college in the first place. Also that there’s a running Thing that the state college has more money that Medfield, which is private, which shows a vast misunderstanding of how college funding works. But even if you assumed that, okay, these guys bought their way into college, clearly they didn’t spend enough doing it. Though I’m pretty sure one of the students listed as being on probation at the beginning of the movie is one Keith Richards?
Of course, there’s also the secret of where Arno gets his money, which is not from wise investments. It’s from, thank you ’60s and ’70s Disney, organized crime. And when Dexter gets zapped by the computer, it imprints the information of Arno’s crime empire into Dexter’s brain. So then Arno’s got to figure out what to do about it—which actually involves a thug named Angelo played by one Bing Russell, Kurt’s father. Which leads to possibly one of the most bizarre climaxes in Disney history.
The plot of this movie is all over the place. I feel like another maybe fifteen minutes would’ve made things a bit more coherent, but the joy of the movie is that I’m not sure it matters how incoherent it is. You accept the basic premise—being crosswired with a computer makes you Dexter Riley, Super Genius—and go with it. Half the kids in Dexter’s group seem to be intelligent enough but lazy—after all, they’re smart enough to spy on the various board meetings—and half of them seem like they’d have problems walking and chewing gum at the same time. Yet when the time comes to call on assistance, they seem more likely to go with the second group than the first.
I’d also like to pay special attention to the movie’s theme song, which is trying so hard to be hip that it was probably dated even before the movie came out. It is definitely not one of the highlights of this era’s theme music; composer Bob Brunner did a fair amount for Disney, and while the score for this movie isn’t awful, the theme has to be heard to be believed.
Walt had been dead for several years by the time this movie came out, but I feel as though it’s one of the better examples of “preserving Walt’s legacy” from these years—he took a personal interest in Kurt Russell’s career, we know, and this is a pretty decent series of roles for Russell. The character is charming without being cloying, human without being truly obnoxious. And you know, I wouldn’t be surprised to know that you could approach Kurt Russell to do a sequel even today and have him go for it?