In case you’re unaware of the rules: Mystery DVD Club is where we buy a shedload of cheap DVDs, in the hope of unearthing a gem. Our writers who signed up to the Club have no idea what they’re going to get in the post – their job is to give the film a spin, and hopefuilly strike gold on the quest for a bargain basement classic. Without further ado…
My Science Project is a comedy science fiction romp from Jonathan R Betuel (probably most famous as the writer of The Last Starfighter, due a sequel in 2010) which opens with a foreboding trip to a government facility in 1957, where a captured flying saucer is stored. The car we’ve been watching as the credits run contains the President, who orders its destruction.
Years later, Michael the cool kid (played by John Stockwell, Cougar in Top Gun) who knows everything about cars and nothing about relationships, and the pretty-yet-geeky Ellie (Danielle von Zerneck), who’s out to win his heart , have an unusual first date… in which they rob the old military facility out of town to find something for our hero’s science project. Michael will flunk if he doesn’t come up with something… and that something turns out to be the UFO’s engine, a plasma globe in the middle of a device that discharges energy like billyo, makes random stuff appear including axes and later starts catapulting people around time… and dimensions. This ‘gizmo’ has a plasma ball in the middle of it when they were still exciting sci-fi props, as opposed to a fiver for a novelty light alongside lava lamps in bargain home stores.
The film comes from an era of great teen sci-fi fantasy films, and in some respects, it’s relatively decent, with a near-proto-Buffy vibe to some of the dialogue and characters, and a last reel full of swirly lighting and effects shots and a bit of pace at last. That’s important, because once you’re past the initial, intriguing teaser, the first hour is very slow. Spotting Fisher Stevens as Vinnie, a year or so before his debut as Benjamin in Short Circuit, or the occasional Star Wars references which culminate in an amusing costumed robbery are incidental pleasures in an otherwise rather dull, nonsensical run-around where we learn little about the background to the central McGuffin.
With a thin plot, the film doesn’t try to say much apart from some rather clumsy speeches about dating, although it has a rather ‘all American’ subtext, coming in the middle of Reagan’s second term, articulated via other characters’ comments about Dennis Hopper’s Bob, the science teacher, who has radical, liberal views. Dearie me. The man may just be a damn Democrat, you know! Hopper is the star turn here, but he doesn’t get much to do – it’s amusing to see him return as a stoned rocker who’s enjoyed an extended holiday in more liberal times. A couple of drug references earned a 15 certificate, but it feels like a kids’ movie otherwise.
The DVD itself contains no extras other than an Italian language option and various subtitles (a hilariously tautological note that ‘bonus materials may not contain subtitles’ actually provided the best laugh of the evening). The soft, moderately dirty transfer wobbles from side to side throughout. A restoration job for an obscure, low budget B-movie without a cult following obviously wasn’t worth it, and so we’re left with a pretty bog-standard presentation of a rather forgettable film. Still, there’s the occasional smile, and it’s interesting to see Stevens and Hopper in something obscure.