Lewis Skolnick (Robert Carradine) goes to visit his best friend Gilbert Lowell (Anthony Edwards) because today's the day that they head off to college, and although Gilbert is reluctant to get out of bed due to nerves, Lewis persuades him and soon his father (James Cromwell) is driving them both to Adams College at sensible speed. However, when they get there and grapple with their luggage to get it up to their room in the freshman dorm, all their dreams of becoming as popular here as they were unpopular in high school come crashing down when the cry goes up from the jocks: "NERDS!"
Nobody expected much from this even before it was made, with many of the cast signing up merely for the work and not due to any great faith in the script. It certainly didn't sound too great a proposition, sending up the post-Porky's teen sex comedy with the underdogs getting one over on the bullies instead of the other way around, but that simple plot (and it was really simple) somehow caught the imagination of the public and it turned into a surprise success. This could have been down to the fact that the nerds of the title had pretty much the same concerns as the jocks in the other works designed to cash in on the benchmark of such things, Animal House.
Yes, just because they were studious and in no way cool, didn't mean that they didn't have a fully operational libido, so what nerds like to think about when they don't have their faces buried in a computer screen is sex and how to get it. Actually, in this hardly any studying is seen at all, as if college was one long party alternating with the lows of social embarrassment, which to be fair was how it was often portrayed in movies like this one, so the intelligence of the main characters has to show up in other ways; after all, simply showing minute after minute of the nerds attending to their essays might have illustrated their revenge in that they got better jobs at the end of their academic career, but this demanded more immediate retribution.
When the jocks burn down their fraternity house in a typically moronic drinking game, they turf the freshmen out of their building and all those who are not accepted elsewhere are the nerds of the title, stuck in the gym for the duration. But they feel a sense of solidarity, this misfit group, who include Lewis and Gilbert, along with Curtis Armstrong's career-defining Booger (a natural descendent of John Belushi's Bluto), a child prodigy (Andrew Cassese who gets one big laugh with a camera look), a gay African-American (Larry B. Scott doing his best with unpromising material), Poindexter (an unrecognisable Timothy Busfield) and the Japanese chap (Brian Tochi). They don't look like much, but ladies and gentlemen these are our heroes.
This is actually far funnier than it had any right to be, apparently aiming for the lowest common denominator in that it never makes up its mind whether it's laughing at or with the geeks, and finally settles on both. It may not be the most sidesplitting comedy around, but it does generate a steady stream of chuckles and even the odd belly laugh - see Lewis's choice of music for Bernie Casey's fraternity governor who they wish to join up with, even though it's mainly for the advancement of black students of which only Scott's Lamar really counts. The humour may be broad, but it is amusing enough to forgive the fact that the call for a nerd revolution at the finale wasn't going to happen any time soon, yet such optimism was not out of place when the leads were so ingenious in their methods of gaining their self respect in the face of boorish behaviour, even if they're almost fighting fire with fire at times - imagine if Lewis hadn't been so satisfying to cheerleader Betty (Julia Montgomery). That's a court case waiting to happen right there. Music by Thomas Newman.