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MOVIE REVIEW : THIS ‘REVENGE’ IS ON THE NERDS TOO

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Occasionally, movies work for audiences simply because they want them to--which may have been the case with “Revenge of the Nerds,” an erratically funny 1984 college comedy--full of raw, predictable gags--that became a surprise smash hit.

But the pattern may not hold for “Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise” (citywide). Like “Beverly Hills Cop II,” it’s a gross parody of its original. And since the original was a gross parody to begin with, the whole thing begins to seem gaseous, overbright, hideously inflated, as if all the bodily function jokes were about to belch it right off the screen.

In “Revenge of the Nerds,” there was an equal ratio of bright to lame gags, but there was such a dense welter of them that the movie developed a racketing rhythm. Here the jokes are fewer, they aren’t very funny, and they’re pushed at you with such brazen vigor and insistence, you can’t ignore how bad they are.

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“Nerds II,” refashions the old “Animal House” fraternity row battle of slobs versus snobs into one of nerds versus jocks. In the original, Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards played a pair of gooney freshman who gadded around with idiot enthusiasm, devilishly persecuted by the football team and its blond Nazi of a coach.

Each had hilarious signatures: Carradine’s Lewis Skolnick, a braying, explosive laugh and a walk that suggested a pregnant dodo; Edwards’ Gilbert, a shy, chinless stare that suggested the sweet stoicism of an ostrich who can’t find any sand. They surrounded themselves with a counter fraternity of all the other guys rejected by fraternities.

All this probably tapped into a lot of the resentment many remember from their adolescence: that rage at not being more popular, handsomer, prettier--and at being cruelly put down by those who are. But what was wrong about the first movie--and increasingly wrong in the second--is the fact that the nerds became a mirror of their persecutors.

The nerd clique, carried over into the sequel by most of the same actors, includes Lamar, a mincing black homosexual (Larry B. Scott); Booger, a John Belushi-style nose-picking boor (Curtis Armstrong); Wormser, a boy genius (Andrew Cassese), and Poindexter, a cripplingly shy violinist (Timothy Busfield). But their success finally lies less in asserting their right to be different than to be champion frat boys. They become campus kings, nerds in excelsis.

Here they head South for a national fraternity conference in Fort Lauderdale, where they run into their old nemeses of the Alpha Beta fraternity--Donald (Ogre) Gibb, again. The bullying Alpha Betas keep engineering skulduggery, trying to bloody the Tri-Lambs, who triumph in the flower of their nerdhood. And again, by the end--which contains the worst case of Rambo-consciousness since “Beverly Hills Cop II"--it’s hard to see much difference between their values and the ones of those tormenting them.

The writers seem almost paralyzed by the first movie’s success, and maybe by the current AIDS consciousness too. Where the first movie was an R, this one is PG-13. There’s little of the scatology and nudity of the first; as compensation it offers that old ‘60s substitute, dozens of buxom girls strutting around in bikinis.

The one thing you can say in defense of “Nerd II” is that it looks much better than “Nerds I,” which Jeff Kanew made in flat, functional comic tableaux. But director Joe Roth’s talents seem out of key here; the wildness seems overcalculated or underedited, and there’s little feeling of comic looseness.

It also hurts that the Carradine-Edwards team has been split up: Gilbert’s sweetness balanced Lewis’ brashness. Here, brashness dominates: not just Lewis’, but the whole automatic-audience approach to movie making. It’s a shame. The nerds of this world deserve something better than this Montezuma’s Revenge of a movie.


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