The utterly silly yarn of Disney’s 1970 pic has been altered significantly and updated for the ’90s, and it’s a good fit. With Kirk Cameron in the title role (Kurt Russell in the original), the remake lacks the zaniness of the original, but families watching can at least share a fairly wholesome experience.
Dexter Riley (Cameron), a charming but lackadaisical student at Medfield College, becomes an instant genius when the entire Internet database is downloaded into his brain.
He’s a walking encyclopedia who can scan the bar-codes on snack packages and write a book on Gettysburg in 20 minutes. Dean Valentine (Larry Miller) exploits our Converse-shod hero by making him captain of Medfield’s team in the “College Knowledge Bowl.” Defending champions are crosstown rival Hale U., led by jealous12-year-old genius Norwood Gill (Mathew McCurley).
Hale’s Dean Carlson (played by Disney veteran Dean Jones) tries to woo Dexter into transferring. Meanwhile, government agents suspect he’s a computer hacker called the Viper.
The role is tailor-made for Cameron but comes close to exhausting his range. The energy comes from the hilarious Miller; he’s the one who appears to have been zapped. Other perfs are workmanlike.
One problem is there’s no credible comic villain. Gone is the gangster portrayed by Cesar Romero; Jones’ role is thin, and McCurley can only give Norwood the old college try.
Part of the blame for the unevenness of performances has to be placed on director Peyton Reed, who hangs too many actors — and moments — out to dry.
The script, credited to Ryan Rowe and original writer Joseph L. McEveety, is so-so. The technology is incorporated well, but many lines fall flat.
Traditional values are wholeheartedly affirmed, though the script conveniently forgets that Dexter’s fortuitous accident occurs while he’s in the act of plagiarism.
Tech credits are above average. Editing is crisp and special effects are right on the money.