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At the Movies: ''Real Genius,'' ''My Science Project,'' ''Weird Science''
By LEE SIEGEL, Associated Press Writer

The film world has taken one small step toward dignity for "nerds" this summer by portraying young science wizards as more than just brainy social rejects with thick eyeglasses, zits and goony laughs.

The summer crop of teen science films _ "Real Genius," "My Science Project" and "Weird Science" _ tell us that even nerds can fall in love and be popular, despite long laboratory hours working on a death ray, an alien space-time warp machine and a computer-built woman.

Science nerds, of course, are those high-IQ types who carry large briefcases filled with books, sport a pencil holder in their shirt pockets, wear clothing that clashes and spend most of their time hunched over computer terminals or growing bacteria.

But in Tri-Star's hysterical "Real Genius," Val Kilmer plays rebellious science wizard Chris Knight, who wears an "I love toxic waste" T-shirt and makes clear he has sex hormones as well as a brain. Strong chemistry develops between Gabe Jarrett's socially humiliated teen-age prodigy and a talkative female science buff.

Danielle Von Zerneck portrays awkward, bespectacled Ellen in Touchstone Films' mildly interesting and amusing "My Science Project." She becomes magnetically attracted to John Stockwell's handsome Mike, who submits the alien space-time warp machine for his science project because he was too busy fixing cars to come up with his own.

But this film can't resist mocking the standard nerd image, seen in the character Sherman, who looks and sounds like a geek with his bottle-glass eyewear, crew cut and donkey-like laughter. To make matters worse, Ellen drops Sherman like a hot isotope and suddenly stops wearing her glasses as she falls for Mike.

So much for nerd liberation.

Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith play wimpy computer freaks in "Weird Science." They can't get girls so they sit down at a home computer, punch a few keyboard buttons, set off a special effects light show and presto! machine-made sexpot Kelley LeBrock slinks out of nowhere.

She teaches Hall and Mitchell-Smith that there's no technological fix to the problem of social isolation, and they learn that if they're cool and self-confident, they can attract real women. Give that woman a Nobel prize for pop psychology.

As a comedy, "Weird Science" is a big disappointment compared with director John Hughes' earlier, funnier films, "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club." Director Martha Coolidge's "Real Genius" shines in comparison, with a fast and clever script that falters a bit, unfortunately, only during the movie's finale.

"Real Genius" and "My Science Project" rated PG, "Weird Science" rated PG-13 because of sexual references.