My Science Project (1985)

“Stay tuned! We went two hours into the future!”

Justin’s Rating: OUTTATIME

Justin’s Review: Science and geeks were all the rage during the 1980s, and you can definitely see that trend emerge in films like Weird Science, Real Genius, War Games, Explorers, Ghostbusters, Revenge of the Nerds, and especially Back to the Future. So it stands to reason that there were some other sciency geeky fare made during this period that got steamrolled and ignored, which is why we’re talking about 1985’s My Science Project today.

Out in theaters for about two weeks (seriously, that’s not an exaggeration), My Science Project fizzled hard without getting much of a chance with audiences. That must have been a blow for writer/director Jonathan Betuel, who previously struck it big with his script for The Last Starfighter. But that’s the glorious thing about “cult” status, because it gives underappreciated flicks like this another shot at redemption — and an audience.

Plagued by a lack of a soundtrack and some pacing issues, My Science Project is nevertheless an enjoyable ride for the person who thinks they’ve seen everything fun the ’80s has to offer. When a car-obsessed teenager finds himself under the gun to produce a killer science project to pass the class, he unearths a piece of alien technology that the Air Force buried back in 1957 from a crashed UFO. So what do you do when you find powerful tech like that? You plug it in, obviously!

That turns out to be a very, very bad idea — but very entertaining even so. The “gizmo,” as it’s called, starts flinging stuff in and out of time and space, unleashing all sorts of historical havoc on the school and small town. The only hope the place has rests in a desperate plan to shut the gizmo’s power source down by two car-heads and one geeky girl.

While the second half of the film is vastly more entertaining than the first thanks to all of the special effects and time shenanigans, I actually liked the choices of the filmmaker that makes My Science Project a bit more unconventional than your standard ’80s teen flick. For starters, the gearhead Michael would be the smarmy villain in any other movie, but here he’s kind of a likable if basic main character. For another thing, the story quickly pairs him up with Ellie, the school geek — and lets her continue to be geeky without making her go through a movie makeover. Seeing these two come together through unusual circumstances is kind of endearing. There’s also a subtly sweet message about retreating into obsessions (books and cars) when teens have a hard time dealing with other actual people, but you’re going to have to pay attention for that between all of the effects going haywire and the snappy one-liners that pop out of these teens’ mouths.

In fact, My Science Project seems to revel in geek culture, from numerous Star Wars references to an incredibly skinny Fisher Stevens humming the Mission: Impossible theme as he rigs a chain of dynamite to take down a power line. And did I mention that Dennis Hopper is here as the ex-hippie science teacher who gets to overact his heart out as per his contract? I kind of suspect he did roles like this for free.

Maybe it does save all its best ammo for the last half-hour, but when you get there, it’s a blast as the kids wander through a school fighting dinosaurs, neanderthals, Roman gladiators, and post-apocalyptic mutants with Vietnam War weapons. This isn’t high-brow anything, but it is more than enough to get a passing grade in science class — and on our screens.

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