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Genius Club, The

Other // PG // September 2, 2008
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted November 19, 2008 | E-mail the Author
Hmm. Maybe by "genius," they mean it in the sarcastic sense, like when you trip over your own shoes or lock your keys in your car, and your buddy scoffs, "Nice going, genius."

I'm talking about "The Genius Club," a laughable mess of pretentious rambling and spiritual shallowness about a roomful of people we're told are geniuses of the 200-plus-IQ variety, but all they ever do is spout the sort of dopey mental fluff you'd hear in a freshman's dorm room at four in the morning after a long day of Philosophy 101 classes and a longer night of XBOX and weed.

Seven of the smartest people in the nation are rounded up by Homeland Security and hauled off to a basement in Washington, D.C., where they're faced with a unique chore: a madman named Armand (Tom Sizemore, here at his Sizemoriest) is holding the city hostage with a self-made one-megaton nuclear bomb, but he won't blow it up if the geniuses can "solve all the world's problems by six A.M." We're clued in to the guy's Riddler-esque cunning thanks to his use of lateral thinking puzzles and moldy-oldie riddles that, surprisingly, these eggheads have never heard before. (Spoiler alert: the horse's name was Friday!)

Duly convinced that Armand is a Wile E. Coyote-level supergenius, we commence the game, in which he reads questions ranging from philosophical debate (true or false: every war has been a waste of human lives) to the sort of trivial griping you encounter after a bad day at the office (why does printer toner cost so damn much?). The madman - who's transmitting these questions via some sort of closed circuit television, broadcasting from his private bunker, apparently inspired by Blofeld, or at least Dr. Evil - then awards and revokes points on a whim-based system that's as arbitrary as the one featured on "Whose Line Is It Anyway." If the geniuses can make it to 1,000 points before morning, Armand will spare their lives. If not, ka-boom. (As a side bet, Armand also tells his captors that the bomb's disarm password is three words, and if they guess the right words, they win.)

You're right in thinking that this sounds fairly stupid, especially the toner cartridge part, which turns into an overlong tirade about how manufacturers make things that intentionally break down, never mind that you have to buy new toner not because it breaks, but because you used all of it up. But, you know, whatever. We haven't even gotten to the dumb part of the movie yet.

What could be worse than lengthy debates on the price of toner? How about Stephen Baldwin, ExtraSuperGenius?

Yes, really. This movie features the star of "Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice" and "Sharks in Venice" as a cynical, tough-as-nails pizza delivery man (whose actual FBI file reads, no kidding: "PIZZA DELIVERY MAN") who checkmates the chess nerds at the park in five moves, who can outwit any snooty college guy in the room, who's the only one in the room who can solve Armand's riddles. (The horse's name was Friday! C'mon, movie! Even my third-grader daughter knows that one!) Pizza Guy is also so rockin', he wears a nose ring and carries a skateboard, apparently unaware that a doughy forty-year-old man with a nose ring and skateboard is sorta sad.

Other geniuses also stumble into stupidity. There's a pro baseball player who's seen carrying a baseball around, you know, just like all baseball players do all the time. The mathematician wears a bow tie. (In a deleted scene, he also puts an unlit cigarette to his lips and pretends to smoke. Brilliant.) One woman is dying of cancer, and we know this because almost all of her lines contain the words "I am dying of cancer." Paula Jai Parker shows up as a genius with asthma, although her genius skills prevent her from remembering to ever take her medicine, which leaves her wheezing and fainting all night long.

(Spoiler alert! At the end of the movie, Parker's character throws away her inhaler, just like Mikey at the end of "The Goonies." She'll be proud of her newfound freedom for about three hours, when she suddenly remebers she needs to breathe in order to not die.)

And then there's Jack Scalia, the B movie veteran who once wowed TV audiences with his stunning portrayal of Dr. Joseph Buttafuoco in "Casualties of Love: The Long Island Lolita Story," and who now brings that sort of gravitas to his role as the President. (Of the United States. Of America! The horse's name was Friday!) If you've ever wondered what it would be like if the President had a thick Brooklyn accent and was always about one syllable away from telling his Chief of Staff to "fuggedaboudit," now's your chance to find out.

The discussions presented here aren't so much genius-grade debates but snotty whine fests peppered with a good amount of shouting. Here are the nation's top minds, we are told, but their solutions are no better than the half-baked, paper-thin complaints made by overexcited callers to late night talk radio shows. There's no cure for cancer, we're told, just because the medical community thinks there's no profit in a cure, and the government would rather toss money into warfare. Everything costs too much, and darn it if the megacorporations aren't putting us in a state that might as well be communism. There's a flashback to an FBI agent getting ripped off by an auto mechanic, because all auto mechanics are evil. And don't even get the movie started on toner.

Around the halfway mark (the whole thing runs over two hours, yeesh), the conversation switches to religion. Christianity, actually, since according to this movie, that's the only religion worth mentioning, unless you count a brief mention of Allah in reference to terrorism. But you know, 1.8 billion believers apparently doesn't make Islam big enough to include it an in-depth discussion of the role of religion in the world. Same with you, Hinduism and Buddhism and Judaism. Sorry, Shinto. Maybe next time, Neo-Paganism. Scientology, you don't even want to ask.

The battle here is between Christianity and atheism, which the movie describes as a religion (as faith in nothing is as strong as faith in something). Not even those wishy-washy agnostics get a vote. Armand asks the geniuses to prove there's a god, and the room of geniuses, all chosen for their various ethnic and socioeconomic diversities, instantly jump into a Christian God-vs.-No God argument.

Writer/director Tim Chey takes a very narrow view in supporting his argument for the existence of God. Parker's character stops wheezing long enough to argue that since the odds for life on Earth are so high, God must have done it, end of story. Atheists, meanwhile, are only atheists because they had a tragedy in their lives and therefore are not rational thinkers.

What's interesting here is that Chey, who's in way, way, way over his head in trying to concoct monologues worthy of the nation's best minds, is so desperate to build a rational argument for God that he overlooks key elements in the very notion of faith itself. Faith is a matter of believing in what cannot be proven (or disproved); that's the whole power of it. There are moments where Chey's screenplay comes close to discussing faith as the lynchpin for religious belief, yet it always falls short. One scene, in which a believer argues that God shouldn't have to reveal himself to be believed, doesn't go far enough into the nature of faith; the extent of the argument is "He doesn't have to now, so shut up." Other faith-based discussions come packed with holes, like this architectural analogy: you've never studied a building but believe it won't collapse on you. (Yes, but you can study a building if you want to, what with a building being a physical thing and all.) Chey is more interested in supporting the faulty arguments of Intelligent Design - that since science is, like, really hard to figure out, we're allowed to give up and just say God did it.

For a movie about faith and finding peace within one's self, "The Genius Club" spends an awful lot of time yelling at, griping to, and downright berating its audience. Even when the characters finally stop shouting at each other (and us), the narration still has time to pop in and throw a sneer our way, grumbling something about how we're all too busy watching stupid TV shows and worrying about the mortgage that we never have time for deep thoughts about the meaning of life. This could be the first Christian-oriented film to have as its central theme: Jeez, you're all a bunch of stupid, useless a-holes.

Oh, but there's more. Separate from the themes and messages and conversations, there's also the matter of this being a flat-out poorly made film on pretty much every conceivable level. The direction is stiff. Production values are cheap. Performances are either laughably wooden or embarrassingly over-the-top. Extras look like frat boys, community theater rejects, or friends of the director. A stunt man in a pony tail puts on a lab coat and asks us to believe he's a doctor. The producer's son lands a key role, delivering a performance worthy of someone who got the part because he's the producer's son. Sizemore, playing a supposedly smart person, says "you err," but pronounces it "urr," as if reading a word he's never seen before.

And the script! We're told at one point that it's Christmas Eve, a fact curiously never mentioned again. The revelation of the three-word password is revealed to have been a smarty-twisty clue from early in the film, although for that to work, it requires a great number of coincidences and plot holes Chey obviously hopes we'll overlook. A newscaster calls the nuclear-hostage situation will be remembered as "the worst crisis in mankind's history," even though (spoiler alert again!) nobody dies and the news can't confirm anything actually happened. (By that standard, that time I stubbed my toe when nobody was looking could be the worst crisis in mankind's history.) Also, Friday was the name of the horse.

So yes, "The Genius Club" bungles its chance to legitimately discuss matters of religion, politics, the economy, violence, and human nature. But it also does things like forget to put a microphone close enough to an actor. For a movie about smart people, there weren't too many of them on the set. Way to go, Einstein.


Video & Audio

"The Genius Club" looks and sounds pretty terrible, although I'd say most of the problems are with the shoddy production and not the transfer itself. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is grainy, fuzzy and dull, with unimpressive colors and murky black levels that overwhelm the underlit image.

The thin, chintzy stereo soundtrack highlights every audio glitch the film has to offer (including scenes where the dialogue was recorded too loudly, resulting in unpleasant fuzzy distortion). A bland Spanish stereo dub is included. No subtitles are offered.


Chey pops up for a talky commentary track (in which, true to the movie itself, he speaks to closely into a cheap microphone, creating a fuzzy, lousy sound). Packed among the expected "here's how/why we made it" stuff are some crazy moments: early on, he says he considers the high-IQ crowd "the most persecuted minority group in the country" (yes, really), and later, he grumbles about the "unfair" treatment the film received from critics. We critics obviously have a prejudice against movies that aren't very good.

"Behind the Scenes" (28:17) combines plenty of (rather boring) on-set footage with (rather boring) interviews in which cast and crew talk about their great experiences working with such great material. (Presented in 1.33:1 full frame, with movie clips properly letterboxed.)

Nine deleted scenes (11:27 total) are presented with fuzzy audio introductions from Chey. Featuring extended arguments, discussions, and character bit, they're about what you'd expect from scenes worthy of getting scrapped. (1.85:1 anamorphic)

The film's teaser (1:04) and trailer (1:49) are included, as are a batch of previews for other Cloud Ten releases.

Final Thoughts

"The Genius Club" is gloriously, stupendously, exceptionally awful, presented here in an unattractive transfer and with unappealing extras. Fans of horrible cinema will want to check this out for a giggle, while saner heads should most certainly Skip It and save up for some printer toner instead. Also, the horse's name was Friday.
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