THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES (1969)
Remember how, despite its fairly fun teen genius premise, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones was a bit of a shit pile? Well, Disney’s at it again and… oh, wait, it’s actually good this time. Directed by Robert Butler, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes is a zany, fun comedy about a kid with extraordinary powers, and guess what? I don’t have much bad to say about it.
Dexter Reilly (Kurt Russell) is a lovable but none too bright college kid who gets electrocuted while trying to plug in a computer.
Instead of dying, Dexter finds himself imbued with a computer brain. Not just a brain as smart as a computer; his brain has literally become a computer. How exactly this happened is unclear, but we know it’s legit, because the local doctor was able to grab the following image from his handy check-to-see-if-that-kid’s-brain-is-a-computer-now-scope:
Well, that settles it.
Suddenly Dexter is in huge demand. His college dean (Joe Flynn) wants him to go on a national quiz show to earn money for the college. Local businessman/mobster A.J. Arno (Cesar Romero) want to use his brain for gambling purposes. His friends just want to hang out and goof around. What’s a teenage CPU to do?
Big trouble in little Medfield.
Worse still, Arno discovers that Dexter may have information about his criminal operations, and decides to take him out. Not to dinner. The killing type of taking out.
Look out, it’s the Jokermobile!
How will Dexter get out of this scrape? Will he be able to find a balance between his responsibilities and his friends? Will he live to be old enough to get really worried about Y2K? Normally I’d tell you, but this movie is actually fairly enjoyable, so I’m not going to be responsible for spoiling it.
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes deals with the difficulties that come with extraordinary intelligence. Unfortunately, one problem is that you become a bit of an asshole, apparently. It starts slowly, as he begins to feel estranged from his former comrades.
Careful, Dexter, if any of them ask you to calculate pi to its last digit, you’re toast.
Soon, he’s ditching his buddies to go gambling with the local mobsters, and as his fame goes further to his head he starts making out with random women on live TV as his abandoned girlfriend sadly watches.
“I’m fluent in binary… ladies.”
When, at the end of the film [Spoiler Alert], Dexter’s advanced intellect is damaged by a bit of head trauma, he reverts to being everyone’s best buddy again. The moral? Don’t get too smart, or you’ll become a total prick. Seems like a somewhat odd message to put in a science-themed movie, but what do I know?
WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE IT?:
I’m honestly not sure how The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes got ranked low enough to make my list. It was successful enough to garner two sequels (Now You See Him, Now You Don’t and The Strongest Man in the World) and even a made-for-TV remake in the ’90s. For some reason, the users of IMDb must have something against it (it inexplicably scored lower than the similar but inferior Misadventures of Merlin Jones). I suppose its plot isn’t as flashy as some, but I found it to be solidly entertaining throughout.
And it’s got more paint-based shenanigans than Home Alone!
MOST REGRETTABLE MOMENT:
I’m going to break format a little bit this week, because there really isn’t anything terribly regrettable in this film. There is, however, a bit of casting that made me retroactively realize something shitty about all the films before this on my list. See, one of Dexter’s friends is black, and this is literally the first time a character in any of these Disney movies has been anything other than pasty white (barring angry natives and the slave kid in Johnny Tremain).
Better late than never, though.
While not perfect, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes has no business being on a list of the 52 worst live action Disney movies, and the good voters of IMDb should be ashamed of themselves and their inconsistent rating system (though I suppose I shouldn’t judge, since I chose to use them when I made my list). For the first time in over a month, I’m happy to say that this film is worth spending your time with. Just don’t pop it into your CD drive during a lightning storm, or you might end up with a shitty computer brain. Or dead, or whatever.
The Boatniks (1970)