I was feeling nostalgic for the 80’s this weekend, and I just rewatched this film, which I’ve always loved. Released in 1982, this film is directed by Robert J. Rosenthal, who co-wrote it with Bruce Rubin, this film is set primarily at Ralph Waldo Emerson High School. Scott Baio stars as Barney, a Senior who is a stereotypical science nerd. Most of his time is spent in the school’s science lab, performing experiments cross-pollinating various plants (he says he wants to study botany in college), as well as performing experiments on a couple of mice, testing how their brains react to alcohol and, secretly, marijuana. Willie Aames plays Barney’s best friend, Peyton. It’s not clear why they’re so close, since they appear to have little outwardly in common. While Barney is the introverted nerd, is an outgoing and a budding ladies man. Early on we see that he’s had an ongoing affair with Miss Updike (Hilary Beane) the Principle’s secretary. But both Peyton and Scott really have their eyes on Jane (Heather Thomas) the popular head cheerleader, but she’s dating an arrogant college gay named Robert (Greg Bradford). Also starring is Felice Schachter as Bernadette, the Senior Class President, who’s a bit of a nerd herself, and also seems kind of stuck-up in the beginning.
One day there’s an accident in the lab, some chemicals get mixed up and there’s an explosion, which temporarily knocks Barney out. When he comes to he slowly begins to realize that he now has telekinetic powers. While practicing in the lab the next day, both Bernadette and Peyton catch him in the act, and they each have different responses to Barney’s new powers. Bernadette wants to study him for the scientific value of what he can do, while Peyton is just interested in using Barney’s powers to their advantage. So during the course of the film we see several situations where Barney uses his powers, sometimes by accident and sometimes intentionally. While he and Peyton are talking to Jane Barney makes the her blouse pop open, exposing her bra. During a game between their school baseball team and a rival school’s team, Barney uses his powers to make his team (which up to that point had lost every game that season) win. And later when some boys and girls from the rival school taunt him, Barney uses his powers to make the boys float up into a tree, and make the girl’s tops come off. During a Senior trip to a local amusement park, Peyton attempts to impress Jane and gets into a drinking contest with Robert, then they get on one of the rides to see who can survive the longest and Barney uses his powers to make Robert spin around faster on the ride, so that when it’s over he’s drunk and dizzy and leaves after puking, which allows Peyton the chance to give Jane a ride home and make a move on her. Meanwhile Barney and Bernadette become close and start dating and then eventually having sex. But when Peyton convinces Barney to come with him to Robert’s frat-house so they could cheat at playing roulette, Bernadette gets mad at the way Barney is abusing his powers and breaks up with him. The film climaxes at the Prom, where Barney tries to make up with Bernadette and Peyton makes one last move on Jane as Peyton is still making plans to exploit Barney’s powers for personal gain in the future. And without spoiling the ending let’s just say that things get pretty crazy in the final act.
A running subplot throughout the film is the burgeoning romance between the Principle, Mr. Coolidge (Robert Mandan), and a teacher, Ms. Burnhart (Sue Ane Langdon). Burnhart as a crush on Coolidge from the beginning but he has no interest in her and initially ignores her somewhat clumsy attempts at seduction. Roger Bowen and Mews Small play Barney’s clueless parents who, when noticing his strange behavior first think that he’s on drugs, but after seeing examples of him using his powers, come to believe that he is possessed by the Devil and hire two Priests (Bryan O’Byrne and Ed Bakey) to come to their house and perform an exorcism on him. And the legendary Scatman Crothers played the couch of the school baseball team. He gets some funny scenes in, especially a sequence where he’s overcome by marijuana smoke and has an hallucination featuring Albert Einstein.
It’s such a good film for what it is and for what it isn’t. If this were made today it would probably involve some shadowy government agency that wants to hunt Barney down and use him for his powers, or maybe he’d have to use his powers rescue someone or stop some major crime. But this is just a silly teen comedy and never attempts to be anything more than that. These kids just have the usual concerns of having fun and getting laid, and Barney’s powers simply facilitate that. Nothing more, nothing less. And that’s why it works. Despite their character’s dis-similar natures, Baio and Aames made a good acting duo here, as we would see again years later when they starred in the TV series Charles In Charge together. Likewise the two female leads Schchter and Thomas are shown to be a tad more 3-dimensional than their roles would initially appear to be, and help round out the cast.
This is a fun, charming film with a likable cast (and several shots of female nudity), that still enjoyable to watch over 30 years later. Chacebook rating: 5 STARS