Revenge of the Nerds Series Retrospective

Nerd. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who managed to go through high school and avoid the cadre of bullies that roamed its halls, you’ve probably been called a name or two in your life, and if you wore glasses, were smart, or paid attention in class (or all three), then this insult was probably hurled at you. The term nerd doesn’t seem so bad now (after all, it can be argued that nerds rule the world), but back in the 80s, you didn’t want to be called one. From that popular insult, an entire movie series was spawned. Go figure.

Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

Plot: A group of college nerds gain revenge on the Alpha Beta jocks who initially make their lives a living hell.

Review: I can’t tell you how many times I watched this movie growing up. It wasn’t just because I was alone and unpopular, and the film really spoke to me, but there was just something about rooting for the underdog against a group of overachievers. You can strip off all the 80s references and that decade’s style of humour, and at its core, it’s a story of David and Goliath. When you think of revenge tales, the lead character who is getting revenge is always cool – the nerds in this movie are definitely not cool, at least not in the traditional sense. The fact that the film allows them to get their comeuppance over the jocks is a revelation in itself.

The cast, though horribly miscast in places, is awesome. It is something to see 30-somethings play college kids, but that’s where the suspension of disbelief comes in. Every cast member plays their part perfectly, with special shout-outs to Tim Busfield, who took a character with almost no dialogue and made him memorable, and Curtis Armstrong as Booger. While the humorous exchanges between Booger and Takashi would definitely not play in today’s ultra-sensitive cancel culture, there is something about Armstrong’s deadpan double-takes when talking to Takashi, and you get the idea he’s treating the character as a little brother as opposed to a subject of ridicule.

The humour, while not always perfect, is pretty spot-on. I saved the loudest laugh for a scene where a campus policeman tells the nerds that the world is going crazy – evident by their most recent pick-up, a guy who charged for flashing a blind person. There’s also the great scene where the football team, with a hellish form of liquid heat in their jocks, ends up running away from the coach during an inspirational speech, leading for him to lament that they didn’t even practice. It also has one of my favourite musical performances in a movie, exhibiting the hidden skills of the nerds that everyone took for granted.

I think the only negative in the entire movie is the whole romance between Betty and Lewis. Betty turns down Lewis’s advances at every turn, and when he ends up tricking her into sex, she instantly falls in love with him. Not only is this the wrong message to send, but it’s also completely unbelievable – it seems to imply that it only takes one good session of sex to make Betty fall in love with a person, which is ridiculous for me to even write. It would have made more sense for her to call the cops and have him arrested. Better yet, don’t even write that scene in, and have Lewis and Betty fall in love in a more natural, believable way. Up to that point, Betty is cruel and dismissive of Lewis, so for her to 180…yeah, it’s just so bad.

That’s the one blemish on what otherwise is a pretty perfect 80s sex comedy. It’s definitely not for everyone, and I would argue that younger audiences these days wouldn’t appreciate the humour or the plot, but for those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s as nerds, it’s a great nostalgia piece.

Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise (1987)

Plot: A contingent of nerds from Adams College go to Fort Lauderdale for the National Fraternity Convention, but run into a new crew of Alpha Betas

Review: After the fun light-heartedness of the first film, this new movie lands in the audience’s laps with a bit of a thud. It’s not horrible, and I would argue that most of it is watchable, but it definitely is not anywhere as good as the first one.

For the first part, the movie badly misses Anthony Edwards’s Gilbert. While Lewis was the raunchy cool wannabe from the first film, Gilbert was sweet and thoughtful, seemingly content with his lot as a nerd. His self-awareness anchored the Lewis character, and the Carradine character is not as charming without his foil. They try to counterbalance this with giving Poindexter more lines (which I think actually took away from Timothy Busfield’s creativity), and Booger is still Booger, but the nerds on this adventure seem less appealing and likeable.

The only thing in their favour is how absolutely wretched the villain is. While Stan Gable, played wonderfully by Ted McGinley in the first film, is just the right mix of mean and condescending, Bradley Whitford’s Roger is borderline psychotic, putting the nerds in physical danger on multiple occasions. When Lewis punches him out at the end, you feel like it’s not enough – a good old-fashioned ass-kicking is what is required. Whitford’s lackey, a smarmy hotel owner, played by veteran character actor, Ed Lauter, is just as vile, refusing to allow the Adams College nerds to stay in the hotel, even though there is nowhere else suitable for them to stay (though they do hilariously end up at the rundown Hotel Coral Essex).

Ogre is back in this one, and with Roger and his band of psychos, he seems even worse than the first film. Of course, Roger ends up jettisoning the dimwitted Ogre, which leads him to joining up with the nerds. I don’t know if I ultimately believe his character would become a friend with the nerds, based on his actions in both this and the previous movie, but the reasoning at least was far better than it was with Betty. I also don’t like Lewis’s romance with Courtney Thorne-Smith’s character (though she is ABSOLUTELY STUNNING in this movie), as he’s still with Betty,  which makes, even less sense in the passion in which he pursues her un the first film. There’s just so much wrong, thematically and plot-wise, in this picture.

That’s not to say it’s all bad. There’s a musical performance which is almost just as good as the first, there are still some laughs, and James Hong does an utterly bizarre turn as a resident in the Hotel Coral Essex that needs to be seen to believed. I don’t know what debts James needed to pay that made him take the role on, but I hope he got everything settled.

Overall, not as good as the first, but worth checking out for the real Nerds enthusiasts.

Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation (1992)

Plot: A new generation of nerds descend on Adams College, with an old foe causing problems when he is elected in as dean.

This was the first of the made-for-television Nerd movies and whoo boy, it is not good. They brought back Ted McGinley’s Stan Gable, Julie Montgomery’s Betty, as well as series mainstays Robert Carradine’s Lewis and Curtis Armstrong’s Booger, but other than some welcome and weird cameos at the end, this is all new nerds.

While it’s an interesting concept, with the nerds having taken over the college and the Alpha Betas are now living in dilapidated conditions, I found the new cast to be mostly uninspired. They inserted a character who is Lewis’s nephew, and he’s alright, and I really liked John Pinette’s turn as the obese, English nerd, but otherwise, no one stands out as a memorable character.

Worse, Lewis has completely changed and has decided he is now cool. It’s almost as if he didn’t even learn what he preached from previous films, and he’s just an insufferable douche for most of the movie. He’s married to Betty, so either she didn’t find out about Courtney Thorne-Smith from the last film, or she forgave him (either way, it’s not good), and Julie Montgomery does her best with the material, but she doesn’t have much to work with. Of course, he ends up seeing the error of his ways, but it’s far too little, too late at that point.

Stan Gable takes his old place as villain in the story, though he does also become a nerd at the end (again, I don’t know if I believe it and by this point, I’m just tired of the previous cool characters joining forces with the nerds, it rings hollow by this point). Morton Downey Jr. is absolutely ridiculous as the obsessive former alum who, much like Roger in part 2, has absolutely no problems going to criminal lengths to antagonize the nerds. You would think that someone who is portraying a successful businessman would have too much time on their hands to worry about planting marijuana or framing Lewis for fund embezzlement from the college.

There are absolutely no laughs in this movie. It’s just a joyless experience, where you see almost every character you enjoyed in the first film carved up or altered, all for no discernable reason. The worse part of all is they recast two of the critical parts from the previous movies, and those new actors appear briefly in the familiar roles in the end  — it was just such a wrong decision.  They should have just left the characters out, I hate when movies do that.

So, if you haven’t seen Revenge of the Nerds III, I say just skip it and stare at a wall for 90 minutes. You’ll have more fun.

Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds in Love (1994)

Plot: Booger finally decides to tie the knot, but her rich soon-to-be-father-in-law tries to sabotage the relationship with his dimwitted son-in-law.

After the absolute garbage of part three, I expected to hate this movie as well, and you know what? I actually liked it! It’s not as good as part one, but I would say it is better than either two or three.  That speaks a little bit more about my opinion of those movies than how good this one is, but there was at least more laughs, more heart and more to like in this one.

Starting off, you had more of the original nerds throughout this one. You still don’t have Poindexter or Gilbert, which is a shame (at least they didn’t recast either part like they did Gilbert in part 3), but more prominent roles for Lamar and Takashi was nice. The main thing is though, the new cast members didn’t suck ass like the previous one. They brought back Lewis’s nephew (who was okay) and John Pinette’s Trevor (who is still very good), but Booger’s bride Jeannie was charming, and it was somewhat believable she would fall in love with Booger (okay, that’s a stretch, but work with me here). Joseph Bologna is absolutely hilarious as her harried nouveau riche father, who is shocked that she picked the unkept Booger as her husband. His lament near the beginning that she chose a man who looked like he came from a vending machine was the biggest laugh in the movie. The rest of the family, while not as funny as Bologna, are either very sweet and charming as well, or bumbling and hapless enough that they get a pass. At least there are no frigging psychopaths in this one.

The best addition, though, is undoubtedly Robert Picardo as the seedy detective tasked with digging up dirt on Booger. He only has a few scenes, but he’s just so damn good at the role, and so damn ridiculous, he steals every scene he’s in.

The movie is otherwise not a barrel of laughs, but it’s tolerable, and there’s nothing in there that really pisses you off. Hats off too to James Cronwell, who appeared in all the films in this series, even though his film career outside the franchise continued to grow more prominent. He’s excellent in this one as well as Lewis’s dad, and even though the material he has wasn’t always the best, he attacked the role with such enthusiasm, you couldn’t help but smile.

So, even though this one is just “nice,” and that’s not a raving endorsement usually for a film, judging by what came before it, I would call nice an unmitigated success.

In Conclusion

While the franchise has more than it’s share of hiccups and doesn’t even follow by the own rules it set out in the original, the Revenge of the Nerds movies are (mostly) a good time, filled with nostalgia and likeable characters. If you are one of those people that have been termed a nerd, then I recommend watching at least the first film in the series – it might make you feel better that there’s a film out there that speaks for you, the challenges you face, and assures you that everything will be alright in the end.  If you’re not, I recommend that movie anyway – there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned revenge story where the underdogs win the day.