“They’re nerds. With their advanced knowledge of computers they can get any information they want!”
REVENGE OF THE NERDS is about as ‘80s of a movie as could exist. Raunchy sex comedy, fraternities, evil preppies, cartoonish nerd characters, gay stereotypes, Asian stereotypes, things that are now recognized as sex crimes played as fun hijinks, a part where they rap very badly. Those things weren’t entirely washed away by the new decade, but they became less common. You weren’t really gonna see many movies like that on the big screen anymore.
But that didn’t stop those vengeance hungry nerds from seeking further retribution on network television! I don’t remember being aware of this at the time, but REVENGE OF THE NERDS III: THE NEXT GENERATION aired at 8 pm July 13, 1992 on Fox. According to tvtango.com it rated lower than its competition: repeats of FBI: The Untold Stories, Evening Shade and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Also its last half hour overlapped with coverage of the first day of the Democratic National Convention.
The director is Roland Mesa, who had only previously directed an interview with Tim Burton about EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, and only followed with a 1994 episode of Tales from the Crypt that was the first credit for Ethan Suplee. But it has the same writers as the theatrical movies, Steve Zacharias & Jeff Buhai. Guardians of the REVENGE OF THE NERDS saga.
I had never seen this movie before, and what really struck me about it was how much it resembled the movie you know they would make now if they were trying to make a sequel to REVENGE OF THE NERDS. It absolutely fits the template of what we now call a legacy sequel. It has a new pairing of central nerd freshmen named Harold (Gregg Binkley, “Egghead,” HOW I GOT INTO COLLEGE) and Ira (Richard Israel, “Punker in Car,” NEW YEAR’S EVIL), and Harold is the nephew of Lewis Skolnick (Robert Carradine returning triumphantly to his iconic role), who now chairs the computer science department at Adams College. Lewis has to have his nerdom reignited, and then he acts as a mentor to the new characters, and it builds up to cameos by some of the other actors from the original in the finale.
It takes place supposedly 10 years after our original nerds were in school, and things have changed so much at Adams that it’s now famous as “One of the first colleges in the U.S. to treat nerds with respect. It’s the promised land, kind of like a nerd Israel.” Lambda Lambda Lambda is the fraternity everybody wants to be in, and the gym has been turned into a computer lab with a statue of Albert Einstein outside of it.
Part I villain Stan Gable (still played by Ted McGinley) now works as a motorcycle cop. He nerd-profiles Harold and Ira and pulls them over. (I admit I laughed at the nerds waving to the cops as they passed them.) Meanwhile, Lewis has become a total sellout piece of shit fuckface. He drives a BMW with the license plate “LEWSTER,” has a ponytail, wears contacts, has a car phone, calls his wife “babe,” says “appearances are everything.” He’s so ashamed of his nerd past that if he starts reverting to that honking laugh of his he will try to fake a cough or leave the room until it passes. He’s also into cooking fancy meals with esoteric ingredients, which seems to be meant as some kind of yuppie thing, but honestly that’s fine, and arguably nerdy. He’s also happily married to Betty, still played by Julia Montgomery (GIRLS NITE OUT), now an art professor at Adams. She is pure and innocent, encourages him to do his actual laugh, and talks about art while he only talks about estimated value.
I guess I should get this out of the way: in the original film, Lewis rapes Betty by wearing then-boyfriend-Stan’s mask and pretending to be him to have sex with her. You know, as a prank. In this movie Lewis references I believe an earlier panty raid incident, saying “That’s the first time I saw you naked” – referring, I believe, to the fact that they put cameras in the sorority house and watched them naked and sold photos of them naked. Betty smiles bashfully, like it was cute what he did. Anyway, if there’s an enlightened way to address those events, this movie did not come up with it!
Another incoming freshman is rich prick Adam Price (Tim Conlon, PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS), who arrives with his powerful alumni father Orrin Price, played by the famous yelling talk show host Morton Downey Jr. (PREDATOR 2). It’s perfect casting because he seems so exactly like the bad guys in the POLICE ACADEMY movies that you wonder how the hell he didn’t play the bad guy in one of the POLICE ACADEMY movies. He’s so outraged to see the new pro-nerd status quo at the place that used to be his playground that he conspires to have the dean recalled and replaced with Stan. This part is actually kind of the same as BATMAN RETURNS: they have their own thugs (the Alpha Betas) attack and vandalize the school and then say they want to “restore order to our campus.” Like the Penguin, Stan is a little reluctant to do it until he thinks it will get him women. Specifically, he for some reason thinks that his college girlfriend Betty will leave her husband for him if he becomes the dean.
I mean it’s a REVENGE OF THE NERDS movie, it’s gonna have some fucked up ideas about women in it, even if it’s for broadcast television. Betty doesn’t go along with the plan at all, but Lewis does, so much not wanting to be a nerd that he buys Stan pretending to be nice, tries hard to be his friend and keeps defending his anti-nerd actions even though it alienates his friends and family.
One joke that’s kind of funny is that even the Alpha Betas are okay with nerds and trying to get some in their fraternity. Unfortunately Stan and Orrin Price tempt them into becoming jock bullies like their ancestors. “There was a time when Alpha Beta stood for something,” Stan says. “There was a time when being an Alpha Beta meant you could have any chick on campus you wanted. There was a time when being an Alpha Beta meant you could shove anybody you wanted to around!”
The writers did not forget that the nerd fraternity Lamba Lambda Lambda was originally a Black fraternity. Current president Malcolm Pennington III (Chi McBride in his first acting, role, credited just as “Chi”) wears an X hat and Malcolm X-esque glasses, and later does a rap. The new pledges (even though they’re white) have to wear Africa medallions and kufi caps during “Heck Week” (which involves “no physical hazing” other than having to sit on eggs).
Another piece of continuity is that during their initiation ritual they describe the plot of the first movie like it’s ancient myth: “When the early nerds were driven from their home by the Alpha Betas and forced to live in the gym…”
Remember how the REVENGE OF THE NERDS saga had their idea of the socially inept, nasally voiced science genius nerds, but then they would have some other random misfits (a gay guy, an Asian guy, a gross guy) that also counted as nerds? That type for ROTN:TNG is represented by Trevor Gulf (John Pinette, later in SIMON SEZ and THE PUNISHER), a large man with a kilt and unconvincing accent; and Steve Toyota (Henry Cho, one episode of The New WKRP in Cincinatti), whose thing is that he has Elvis hair and a southern accent and the joke is he say he’s South Korean. You see. Future George Clooney writing/producing partner Grant Heslov is also a Tri-Lamb, his thing is he’s a genius at botany? They also allow girls in the fraternity now, so we have Judy (Laurel Moglen, Beauty and the Beast) and Edith (K.T. Vogt, DOC HOLLYWOOD). To its credit the movie just gives Judy a pink kitty sweater and not, like, broken glasses and braces. A rare drop of subtlety in this thing.
But also there’s a robot. The robot later gets lynched.
Intentional parallels are drawn between hating nerds and bigotry toward minority groups. Alpha Betas put on ski masks and do a “nerd bashing” at a Tri-Lamb barbecue, but Dean Gable won’t do anything about it, telling the nerds to “stop pushing their lifestyle” on others. They decide they need legal help, so they look in the alumni files and discover that Booger (Curtis Armstrong, BETTER OFF DEAD…) is now a lawyer. He agrees to help them pro bono for the not-as-acceptable-in-2022 reason that “I want to go back to college. I want to live in a fraternity. I want to date college girls.”
Later Orrin Price somehow frames them for growing pot, which even Stan thinks is going too far. But when he goes along with it and then calls Lewis a nerd, Lewis is finally spurred to reclaim his title as “nerd George Washington” and “a great warrior for nerd rights.” It really plays like John Wick coming out of retirement. He goes to the trunk that he brought his stuff to college in in the first movie, gets out a gun (turns out to be a squirt gun), and there’s a montage with him putting on his glasses and pocket protector, hiking his pants up and yes, cutting off the ponytail with hedge clippers.
The revenge of the nerds this time involves such hilarious pranks as somehow impersonating barbers and shaving “NERDS RULE” on the Alpha Betas’ heads, rigging Orrin Price’s shower with “some secret nerd concoction” to paint him like a candy cane, and replacing their pimple remover cream with cream that creates pimples. But the biggest event is when Lewis takes to the airwaves (we learn that all radio DJs consider themselves allies to the nerd community) and calls for “an Adams College nerd strike” to protest “the systematic elimination of nerd culture from the Adams campus.” The dean’s secretary Ruth (Jennifer Bassey, STEPFATHER 3) is the first to join the strike, saying her son is a nerd. It actually seems to be a general strike, with postal and electrical workers joining, and other businesses like gas stations shut down because they don’t know how to work the computers. (The nerds power their cars with home made methanol.) There’s a NORMA RAE reference, they have “a nerd-in” holding signs about “Nerd Power,” etc.
Eventually Orrin price frames Lewis for embezzlement, so the finale is a big trial with Booger as the lawyer. Various old friends show up to support him by just walking in in the middle of the trial and talking to him. So this is where we get the legacy sequel cameos: James Cromwell (EXPLORERS) as Lewis’ dad, Bernie Casey (STEELE JUSTICE) as Tri-Lamb national president U.N. Jefferson, Larry B. Scott (SNAKE EATER II: THE DRUG BUSTER) as Lamar, Brian Tochi (THE OMEGA MAN) as Takashi, nobody as Ogre. Harold Wormser also shows up but he’s played by Sean Whalen (THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, BATMAN RETURNS, TAMMY AND THE T-REX, 3 FROM HELL). He’s such a distinct movie weirdo that it didn’t even occur to me he wasn’t the one from that movie. Whoops.
But this is all leading up to the return of Lewis’ old best friend Gilbert, referred to multiple times throughout the movie. They have a strained relationship because of Lewis being a sell out, so Lewis is surprised and touched to see Gilbert show up to offer his support.
Oh yeah, but it’s not Anthony Edwards, it’s some guy named Mike Greenwood, whose only other acting job was a two-parter of Quantum Leap in 1989. Look at that picture though – isn’t it pretty good casting for what we could imagine Edwards might’ve grown into if we hadn’t seen him in other things and knew he was skinnier and more bald? It would be a couple years before he became really famous again for ER, but he was probly busy filming PET SEMATARY II right around then.
Hey wait a minute – Clancy Brown (HIGHLANDER) was in PET SEMATARY II also and he did a scene in this, as a fuckin gas station attendant! What the fuck, Anthony Edwards? He had a way harder part than you in that movie and he wasn’t too busy to take a humble role in your god damn franchise! Are you ashamed of your nerd past, like Lewis?
Nah, I’m just kidding. I know Edwards didn’t even want to do part 2 and had them write his part as a glorified cameo. And he also had DELTA HEAT, LANDSLIDE and Northern Exposure released in ’92, so he was likely occupied.
Anyway, they hug and everyone claps and then Stan stands up and says that Orrin Price was really the embezzler and makes a heartfelt speech about how Lewis showed him what friendship was really about. The gay parallels continue because he explains that “My whole life I hated your kind, when I really— I hated myself.”
And also this movie kind of predicts the future because this handsome popular ex-quarterback fraternity president turned cop and dean claims that because he’s started using a computer he considers himself a nerd! In those days we didn’t know that some day every handsome square in the world would start saying, “I’m actually a total Star Wars nerd” or whatever, but REVENGE OF THE NERDS III knew it.
Anyway, he says they’re innocent of the marijuana charges also (which is completely unrelated to this trial) so everybody cheers and the judge (Lawrence Wolf, PUTNEY SWOPE) has the bailiff handcuff Price, which as far as I understand is not how the law works, but I could be wrong, I’m sure they probly do alot of research for these things.
I don’t know what to say about the quality of this movie. Obviously a made-for-TV sequel to REVENGE OF THE NERDS is gonna be shitty, but is it as big a drop in quality as most theatrical-to-TV sequelizations? Probly not. It’s kind of surprising that it has some of the main stars (an earlier unaired pilot for a series did not). And I must confess that I did laugh sometimes, mostly because of lines that used the word “nerd”:
“Are you saying these nerds are innocent?”
“You’re not a nerd, you’re an idiot!”
“I don’t negotiate with nerds.”
I think the pro-nerds/misfits/computer-users message of REVENGE OF THE NERDS III: THE NEXT GENERATION is too basic to qualify as unique to Weird Summer, and they didn’t update it to include some ‘90s goth or anything like that. But making a TV sequel to that series is pretty weird, I guess.
A note about the timeline: Booger refers to college as being ten years ago, even though they were attending during the first movie (which came out eight years earlier) and the second movie (five years earlier). Stan refers to himself as Class of ’80 even though he was still in school in part I, released in 1984. What I’m saying is that the nerds in these movies would really pick apart these movies if they saw them.