Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My Science Project (1985)

Title: My Science Project (1985)

Director: Jonathan R. Betuel

Cast: John Stockwell, Danielle Von Zerneck, Fisher Stevens, Dennis Hopper


My Science Project came about around the time when teenage sci-fi comedies like Back to the Future (1985), The Last Star Fighter (1984), Weird Science (1985) and Real Genius (1985) where huge box office hits. Some of these teen sci-fi comedies made a lot of money, others didn’t fare so well. My Science Project was one of the ones that didn’t fare so well at the box office. There are various reasons that we can attribute to its failure, one of them being that it didn’t have any “it” teenagers or big time producer/directors involved in its production. For example, Back to the Future starred Michael J. Fox and had Steven Spielberg producing, Weird Science had super hot model Kelly LeBrock, Real Genius had  Val Kilmer, but My Science Project counted with no name actors or producers. I mean, Fisher Stevens isn’t exactly a huge box office draw and neither was anyone else on the film, basically, this was one of those movies in which everyone was just getting started in the industry. Dennis Hoppers role is basically a glorified cameo, so it doesn’t really count.  Sometimes in a film, it’s the special effects that are the star of the show, this was the case with The Last Star Fighter which employed computer effects heavily, which was a novelty at the time. My Science Project also had a huge emphasis on visual effects, question is:  were they worth a damn?

The story for My Science Project goes something like this: Michael is the local grease monkey/high school student who is flunking science class. In order to pass the class, his science project has to be “Dy-no-mite”, unfortunately, nothing has popped into his head. It seems Michael is only good at one thing: fixing cars. Not to worry though, Michael has decided to visit a military junk yard in hopes to find something that might wow his science teacher. Low and behold, he finds this weird looking machine that glows with purple light. He doesn’t know exactly what it is, but It looks like he’s found exactly what he needs to pass his class! Too bad for him this isn’t just any old gizmo! This is an alien machine that creates “time warp wormholes” that bring things from other times into our own. Will they find a way to shut the damn thing off?

The thing about the film is that it starts out fun enough, with these teenagers, each doing their thing, one is a geek, the other a grease monkey, the other a television/comics freak and I was personally digging the movies first half in which we get to meet the protagonists. The girl of the group is ‘Ellie’ and she’s writing an article for the school newspaper while at the same time trying to go out with the grease monkey ‘Michael’. She’s all head strong about it asking him out. Problem is that Michael is confronted by his hippy science teacher played by Dennis Hopper. By then the film was reminding me of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), which has a similar premise, two best friends have to travel through time to recover real life historical figures in order to pass their history exams. Unfortunately once Michael turns the machine on the film turns into a dull visual effects show that never seems to end. The effects are cool to look and I have to admit, I loved the sound effects they used for it, but after a while it turns redundant. You simply get more of the same thing over and over again. You see, the time warp thing brings all sorts of creatures and characters from other times into the local high school, so it isn’t long before we’re seeing mutants, cavemen and dinosaurs roaming the halls of the school. I will say that there’s this cool moment where a T-Rex pops into the school’s gym that I loved. But then we go back to the overdose of blue lights.

The concept is a good one; the whole thing with having creatures come in and out of time also reminded me a whole lot of Weird Science, a film where they also fooled around with the same idea. The only difference is that Weird Science was actually funny; this one loses the funny by focusing on the visual effects. At the time, these types of effects were very popular, I remember that Lifeforce (1985) was another film that had a lot of these flashy blue lights on the screen, the problem for me with My Science Project is that too much time is spent on the visual effects and the characters and their motivations get lost in the shuffle. The romance between Michael and Ellie kind of loses steam; in my opinion they needed to focus a bit more on it so things would matter more. There’s this whole subplot about Michaels father getting married with a bimbo that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, it seems to have been included in there for no reason but to stretch the films running time. There’s a moment where the film drags, but then we go back to the whole thing with the monsters in the school and things get a bit more exciting. Then it's all about turning off the machine and fighting whatever monsters come out of the worm hole. 

"Who you gonna call?"

In terms of performances, this movie's saving grace is of course, Dennis Hopper who plays the stoned out of his mind science teacher. He isn’t in the film all that much, but when he is he lights up the screen and steals the show. Basically, Hopper plays the whole thing as if he was still ‘Billy’ from Easy Rider (1969), he says “yeah man” and “far out” a lot and wears a peace symbol on his neck. He has one of the craziest moments in the film. Then we have Fisher Stevens, whom some of you might remember as the guy who invented ‘Johnny Five’ in Short Circuit (1986). He’s easily the funniest thing in the movie, always referencing some 80’s movie or television show. There’s this moment where he talks about John Carpenter’s Christine (1983). That’s one of the things I like about this movie, the kids are all talking about very 80’s things. For example, there’s this one moment when somebody asks “How many times have you seen Jedi?” At another moment in the film some hoodlums are wearing storm trooper helmets! All these 80’s references made the whole thing very nostalgic for me, I used to watch this one a lot back in the day. How 80's is this movie? Well, wait till the end credits and hear the theme song for the film, thats how 80's!. 

I watched this one with a friend of mine and she kept pointing out how hot John Stockwell looked, unfortunately, his good looks didn’t take him too far, he never turned into an 80’s “it boy”, what he did do was become a filmmaker. He’s gone on to make films like Crazy/Beautiful (2001), Blue Crush (2002), Into the Blue (2005) and Turistas (2006), his career as a filmmaker is actually alive and kicking. Fisher Stevens also turned into a director making films like Stand Up Guys (2012) and Just a Kiss (2002). Danielle Von Zerneck ‘s career isn’t filled with that many great films, but to me she will always be Ritchie Valens’s  girlfriend “Donna” in La Bamba (1987). So maybe starring in My Science Project didn’t send them to stardom, but hey, these protagonists have found a way to thrive in the film industry in other ways. The only one whose career in the film industry fizzled was the films director, Jonathan Betuel. He wrote and directed the film, which was kind of cool because he also happens to be the guy who wrote The Last Star Fighter (1984), one of my favorite films from the 80’s. The success of The Last Star Figther is probably what got him this gig. After being involved in the making of these two films, he never directed any feature films of note, unless you count the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle Theodore Rex (1995) which cost 33 million dollars yet went straight to video, which probably explains why Betuel never worked again in the film industry, that’s what I call one expensive flop! I haven’t seen Theodore Rex, but it is heralded as one of the worst films ever made. They say it’s kind of like a remake of Blade Runner, but with Harrison Ford as a Dinosaur? Damn, now that I think about it, I’m going to have to see that! I'll have me one of those 'bad movie nights'.  Bottom line with My Science Project is, it’s not a ‘top tier’ 80’s film, but it’s not completely forgettable rubbish either. If you’re feeling nostalgic about the 80’s, it’s at least worth a watch.

Rating: 3 out of 5


eddie lydecker said...

Danielle Von Zerneck wasn`t an incredible bird, she was a reasonably tasty bird but not a truly amazing bird. Maybe thats why the movie didn`t do that great at the box-office, it needed an astonishing bird like Kelly Lebrock.

Jay Shatzer said...

I remember watching this one as a kid and I loved the hell out of the T-Rex! Wish I could revisit it again, because it's been forever.

Franco Macabro said...

Eddie Lydecker: I always thought Danielle Von Zerneck had this innocence to her, too bad she never made all that many feature films, but she was great in the ones that she did make, like in La Bamba. Kelly Le Brock on the other hand is, wowzers, astonishing in deed!

Jay: Yeah, that T-Rex scene is a show stopper, I had not seen this one since I was a kid, it was cool to revisit it, it's still entertaining, even in its simplicity.

Unknown said...

Well, I certainly can't refute your criticisms of the film except to say that they didn't bother me all that much. The film's a fun time waster and I really dug the special effects, which didn't seem dated at all. I love that they have a tangible quality that a lot of today's CGI just doesn't have.

I think that my view of this film is also probably tainted with nostalgia. I remember watching this film many many times on video and revisiting it again recently was a lot of fun. I plan to do something on it on my blog as well.

DallasDeckard said...

I have to disagree about the romance, I think it's pretty well done. Stockwell's character grows and evolves in the film, becoming a better man than when he started, outgrowing his former girlfriend "Crystal" and making him worthy of the Zerneck character's affections. I admit I have a nostalgic attachment to the film; it was in theaters when I was still a young man. Oh, I hate to be the grammar police, but your review loses respect when you repeatedly misspell "lose", instead using "loose". I see this frequently in the posts of millennials in particular. I Just thought you'd want to know.

Franco Macabro said...

DallasDeckard: Thanks for pointing out the issue with the word lose, I try and keep it in mind but every now and again, I make the same mistake! It's high time I stop repeating it, thanks!

Unknown said...

Badass GTO


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