|Revenge of the Nerds/Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 13 February 2001|
It is possible but pointless to review the DVD presentations of the original "Revenge of the Nerds" and its sequel "Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise" as separate entities. From a thematic standpoint, the second film needs the goodwill of the first to fuel audience interest. Pragmatically, both films occupy opposite sides of the same disc, so anyone purchasing one automatically obtains the other.
When "Revenge of the Nerds" first appeared on the scene in 1984, it seemed like a subversive example of the teen comedy genre, and it holds up well in that respect. It has the requisite panty raids, property destruction and drug humor (this last amazingly cheerful and relaxed by 2001 standards), but it also salutes intelligence, tolerance and human decency as laudable qualities. Parts of the movie now seem almost quaint, such as its depiction of computers and even the fate of "nerds" at college – back in 1984, it was known that brainy, socially awkward types would be able to slot into good jobs, but nobody had yet quite grokked that the world was about to be owned by the likes of Bill Gates and Steven Jobs.
Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards (nowadays of "E.R." fame) play best friends who go to Adams College and organize a fraternity of their nerdish brethren in self-defense against the attacks of buff, small-minded jocks. Jeff Kanew directs the screenplay by Steve Zacharias & Jeff Buhai (from a story they wrote with Tim Metcalfe & Miguel Tejada-Flores) with a light hand that makes sympathetic figures of a dowdy young woman and an effete young African-American man.
Carradine is a hoot with great timing as the large-toothed freshman with a hereditary yuk-yuk laugh and a sweetly optimistic outlook, who triumphs over adversity. Edwards is winning as the loyal best friend who is a little quicker to catch on to the perils of unpopularity. It’s intriguing to play spot-the-supporting-actor here – a youngish John Goodman’s appearance is enough to cause a double-take.
The film pays homage to – i.e., borrows liberally from – the anarchic genius that is "Animal House." Nevertheless, it has its own bemused, genuinely warm point of view. Our heroes may be justifiably upset at their tormentors and take steps to even the score, but they are never mean for the fun of it. The amiable style of "Revenge of the Nerds" often transcends its standard-practical-joke substance, making the inner nerd in all of us proud.
"Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise" aims for this same balance, but the screenplay by Dan Guntzelman & Steve Marshall doesn’t feel like it’s working off the same heartfelt inspiration. Five of the main characters from the first film – led by Carradine (Edwards’ character is sidelined with an injury, but he has an extended cameo) – head to Ft. Lauderdale for a fraternity conference where beautiful women in bikinis and more jock tormentors await. "Paradise" doesn’t revel in the characters’ ingenuity or bonding the way the first movie does. It has some gags that are at best mildly amusing (including a ferocious float right out of "Animal House") and at worst draggy, while its attempts to stir emotions play like sitcom material – not dreadful, just very familiar. Joe Roth directs competently. There’s nothing particularly wrong with "Nerds II" – it’s just not distinctive.
The overall sound on the first "Nerds" tends to be better than on the second, although the center-channel dialogue sometimes sinks under music and ambient effects. The mixes are a bit schizophrenic. After giving several chapters repeated listens, it seems as though sometimes the tracks are mixed for discrete effects and sometimes the rears simply echo the mains and center. In Chapter 3 of the original "Nerds," for instance, objects hitting the ground onscreen scatter around the soundfield with clearly placed impact while a punchy "Burning Down the House" by Talking Heads muscles its way through the mains to comment on the action. In Chapter 4, we hear commendably subtle footsteps in the rears as a family approaches along a wooden-floored hallway. However, in Chapter 6, a music montage spreads pretty evenly throughout the speakers without engaging the sub. Chapter 14 features an amusing onscreen parody of Devo and Thomas Dolby, although the sound shifts largely to the center and mains, with a couple of disconcerting sputters in the rears. However, Chapter 15 provides a nice sense of spatial placement once again, with individualized yells in a crowd coming from each rear.
According to credits, the group Devo actually performs the soundtrack for "Nerds II," which is composed by Mark Mothersbaugh. The ‘80s technopop lends some energy to the proceedings and get a good mix. Chapter 3 gives us the opening title song’s vocals in the center and mains, with back-up residing smoothly in the rears. Chapter 7 has some extremely well-placed gross-out sounds in the left main. Chapter 8 features a creditable "nerd rap" number performed adroitly by Larry B. Scott onscreen, with the vocals rather appealing but low in the center channel. The soundtrack sometimes has a problem with scratchiness, especially when maracas are employed in Chapter 1 and on some guitar instrumentation in Chapter 13.
The original "Nerds" is actually worth watching; the second is a harmless follow-up that probably works best if you still want to sit in front of your monitor without the hassle of immediately retooling your brain for different subject matter.