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THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kurt Russell, Cesar Romero, Joe Flynn
Director:  Robert Butler
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  None
Length:  90 Minutes
Release Date:  January 14, 2003

“A computer is a luxury this college simply cannot afford!”

Film **

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Disney’s trio of films about college student Dexter Riley (a very young Russell).  The first one, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, came out the year I was born, and I must have seen it at least a half a dozen times while growing up on The Wonderful World of Disney.  For a young mind, it was a zany comedy that fired the imagination…what student wouldn’t want to be in Dexter’s tennis shoes and suddenly have the brain of a computer?

Looking back with adult eyes…well, some things are better colored by nostalgia.  It’s still a harmless family film with a few interesting ideas and a laugh here or there, but overall, it’s easy to see why this movie didn’t take it’s place alongside more timeless Disney live action classics like The Parent Trap or Old Yeller.  It was essentially a one-joke premise locked in a rather uninspired script with three decent lead characters surrounded by dead weight.

Riley is a college sophomore who, along with most of his friends and Medfield, are about to be placed on academic probation by the uptight Dean Higgins (the always amusing Flynn).  The school is having problems…when one of the professors asks for a computer, Higgins retorts with the above quoted line, which is worth a barrel of laughs in the year 2003!

Keep in mind that in 1969, a computer took up an entire room and performed only basic calculations.  But Dexter and friends manage to acquire one from a local rich patron, A. J. Arno (the gleefully diabolic Romero).  The problem?  Hidden in that computer is a lot of information about Arno’s illegal business activities…and when an electrical accident drains the entire contents of the computer into Dexter’s brain, he not only becomes the smartest man alive, but a walking talking threat to Arno, who’s willing to do ANYTHING to save his hide!

The film follows a mostly predictable plot, which involves A) Dexter becoming a college quiz champion and getting the chance to help his school by winning a big cash prize, and B) the attempts of Arno and his henchmen to get rid of Dexter!  They almost succeed, but thanks to the help of his pals (what were their names again?) and a pretty exciting and comical car chase that leaves A. J.’s face red (literally), Dexter still has a chance to save the day…as long as his newfound mental powers don’t wear off first!

This movie just doesn’t stand the test of its audience growing up, I suppose.  As I mentioned, I loved it as a kid, but as a grown-up, it was just too goofy and uninspiring.  Whether or not today’s kids would get into it I can’t guess, but given how dated the picture looks now, I wouldn’t bet on it.

And I’m just as dated at this film is.  I hope that only means I’ve aged better than it did.

Video *1/2

Will the real Disney please stand up?  Is this the same studio that wowed DVD lovers with their excellent releases of Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, The Parent Trap and others?  Why do they continue to be the only studio to withhold widescreen transfers on a whim?  This film, despite looking it’s age with print marks, occasional flicker and colors that range from good to medium quality, is presented in cropped format.  The problems are obvious right from the start…you can always tell the image is misframed and that people and/or objects are being sliced off on the left and right.  What a complete cheat…had I know Disney had stooped so low with this title, I would have avoided it altogether.  We’ll have to remind ourselves how bad this studio can be whenever we think of them as being new and improved, and make sure we know what we’re spending our money on.  Caveat emptor.

Audio **

Typical mono offering, but with a little zing coming from the big car chase climax.  Dialogue sounds clean and clear throughout, and I noticed no noise or other distractions.  That title song, though, has got to be one of the studio’s worst.

Features (zero stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

Even if you wax nostalgic, avoid this lazy DVD effort, as well as all others in the new Disney “Film Classic” series completely.  There’s no excuse for this studio continuing to push their butchered screen products onto a trusting public.  If you can’t see the whole movie image, you’re being cheated…end of story.