Not only is Real Genius a rad eighties movie, embodying all that eighties movie radicalness implies (tubularity, crucialness, etc.), it also has a genuinely smart message presented in a way that resonates with not-dumb audience members. A couple of whiz kid college students strive to succeed in Reagan’s America by creating a new technology (an ultra laser), never being able to step outside their goal orientated world to notice that what they are building is actually a super deadly weapon meant for shady purposes (as is the case with most super deadly weapons).
Spymate employs a vaguely similar setup. The adorable Emma Roberts is super good at science despite only being 12 years-old or so (making her more even adorable than usual). Emma is so good at science, in fact, that she recently won an award for “national scientific achievement” for her environmentally friendly yet ultra powerful chemical laser drill. When I was her age, I enjoyed making science every now and again, but it mostly amounted to a paper mache volcano and a maybe a barely functioning pulley system.
Of course, there’s the evil Dr. Farley (played by Richard Kind, who you may know as Larry David’s annoying cousin on Curb Your Enthusiasm, amongst many other roles), who wants to not only take Emma’s invention for himself, but kidnap her and force to make more science in the name of money grabbing jerkitude. He plans to use the laser on a volcano to create an energy source that will make him rich, but if things go wrong, it could potentially kill “hundreds of millions of people”. Sounds like a risky business decision to me, but I guess you gotta take risks to make money. He even has an evil albino sidekick (complete with scarred eye) to help him out. Albinos must not be one to picket movie theaters, because I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an albino in a movie that wasn’t evil. I guess in the world of the movies, pigment and morality are inexorably linked. Anyway, this message is much more ham handed and up front than it was in Real Genius, but it’s a kids movie, so you gotta spell shit out.
The astute viewer may have noticed that the trailer features a superspy chimp, and I have yet to even mention such a chimp. Don’t worry, it all fits together. You see, Emma’s dad is a retired superspy who was formerly partnered with fellow superspy Minkey the chimp. This is all explained in the backstory. There are a lot of ins and outs and what-have-yous to this one folks.
You see, way back in 1994, Emma’s dad is kidnapped by evil terrorists in the Arabian desert, and Minkey has to single-handedly save him and does so with suave simian-ocity. Minkey expertly disguises himself as a sheik, and even wears camouflage underneath that (in case he suddenly finds himself in an Arabian jungle, he can ditch the sheik outfit and hide in the foliage). He is also helped out by his super watch, which has a map GPS function that he uses to find his partner’s exact location. If that sounds like technology that wasn’t around in 1994 (I had a pretty state-of-the-art watch at the time, and that mostly just had a calculator), just keep in mind that superspies always get gadgets about 10 years before anyone else does. Also, if you thought chimp spies (or any spy animal for that matter) got short shrift when it came to gadgets, maybe get Q’s hand-me-down grappling hooks and outdated voice disguisers, you would be incorrect sir. Equal toys for equal spies.
Minkey has since retired from being a superspy (maybe due to stress, assuming chimps feel stress) and is now a high wire act in a circus, albeit without a net. I know that hardly sounds like a relaxing alternative career, but keep in mind he has a rocket pack, so all he has to do is hit a button to avoid certain death should he fall off. If this chimpanzee sounds more talented than most (a character says at one point “that darn monkey…it’s highly trained!”), you would be correct. He also skateboards and snowboards during the movie, and also appears to know several forms of martial arts. The character seems to have been played by the same chimp that stars in those “Most Extreme Primate” movies. You know, where each movie has him showing off a different skill, whether skateboarding or hockey playing, and maybe breakdancing and extreme synchronized swimming (that’s synchronized swimming in a shark tank). Forgive me for my hazy memory, as I’ve lost track of the series by this point.
Anyway, I think it’s unfair to have one chimp doing all this stuff. They should probably spread skills around the primate community so each one can have their own little fun performing a human activity. Basically, you got one guy hogging all the skills. Maybe you find a chimp that can smoke a cigar or bounce a banana off some kid’s head at the zoo, but that’s about it. It just isn’t fair. Hell, even I can’t even do any of this stuff. I skateboarded a little bit as a kid but fell over a couple of times and gave up. I guess my balance and coordination is just not on the level of a chimpanzee.
It should come as little surprise that Minkey teams up with Emma’s dad in order to save her from evil clutches. Regardless, it’s really up to the chimp to vanquish evil, as his human partner is mostly a tag along. When you have a chimp that is that friggin’ talented at human stuff, humans just need to hang out in the background and try not to screw things up. They ride around in their spy DeLorean (although you would think a DeLorean would stand out when you are trying to remain incognito) are assisted by the standard spy gadgets, like the laser pen and the X-ray sunglasses. There’s also the more non-conventional gun that shoots paint pellets wrapped in balls of electricity. I’m not quite sure why it needs to do both. I guess it just looks cooler when you shoot an electrical ball at someone and it leaves a paint stain.
The pair also gets help from Minkey’s circus freak friends, although these are a relatively normal group of circus freaks. There’s the overweight lady (who awesomely rolls into a ball and knocks a dude over, bowling style), a strong man, and a dude who apparently thinks he’s The Flash (I didn’t realize that a fake superhero qualified as a freak, but I’ll try not to discriminate). If you think this is a result of PC whitewashing, keep in mind that whenever an Asian character pops into frame, there’s a gong sound. Even Pat Morita briefly shows up and gets the gong treatment. You’d think they’d be happy to get a star of Morita’s stature to play a small part in the movie and maybe show him some respect as a result and not whip out the going sound when he’s on screen, but I guess not.
Even though Spymate is squarely a kids movie, it’s not soul-suckingly cynical like many other kids movies. There’s the aforementioned positive message, along with a second positive message that girls can do science (Emma’s scientist hero is a female as well), although if you think girls can’t do science going in, you’re probably already burdened with an unscientific mind (read: stupid).
Spymate has a lot of rollicking fun and shenanigans jammed into 79 minutes. I also like the matter-of-fact cartoonishness of it all. The relatively low budget means the movie is straight forward and unadorned (no flashy lighting and expensive sets), yet there are moments of wonderful cartoon logic, like when Minkey is playing video games at home and realizes he’s late for his trapeze act, so he immediately puts on his rocket pack and quickly flies over to the circus. This is presented as perfectly logical and normal within the framework of the movie, and I dig that. Sometimes people try too hard to be wacky or winking. A chimp with a jet pack is awesome all by itself.
P.S. This was written as part of "Animals Doing Human Stuff Month" over at Emily's "Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense" blog. Click! It's da bomb!
P.P.S. This movie was released direct-to-video in 2006, but was obviously completed several years earlier.