Real Genius centers on several students at Pac Tech, an institution esteemed for its technological breakthroughs. They’re currently working on a project to build a high-powered laser. The project is led by an egotistical professor and TV science show host named Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton), who has been employed by a clandestine group within the Pentagon for Operation Crossbow, whereby the military will use the laser to vaporize targets from space with sniper-like precision.
Enter 15-year-old genius Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarrett), recruited by Hathaway to start college early at Pacific Tech. He rooms with the school’s prior hot prodigy, a rebellious and smart-alecky senior named Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), who has decided there’s more value in being a slacker than to continue showing everyone he’s the smartest person on campus. Knight’s shenanigans have Hathaway, who must produce the results in an accelerated four months instead of the originally intended eighteen, threatening to kick him out of school if he doesn’t assist in completing the laser in the allotted time. Martha Coolidge directs.