A movie about the world's greatest minds should include -- at the very least -- a modicum of intellectual discourse. What a disappointment then to get a bunch of dopes spitting out earnest soap-opera dialogue. That's The Genius Club, a low-budget wannabe thriller that's anything but smart.
In fact, writer-director Timothy Chey's failed feature sets up one implausible scenario after another, on top of uniformly unremarkable acting. What's left to the story then? An ambitious concept that's flat from the first clichéd line of narration.
It seems a madman (Tom Sizemore, playing to type) is holding Washington, D.C. hostage with a nuclear weapon he's ready to detonate. But if a small group of the country's highest IQs can correctly answer high-minded questions posed by Crazy Guy, he'll call it off and spare half a million lives. So Homeland Security -- which appears to be three serious-looking college guys -- rounds up the smarties and hustles them to an empty warehouse in D.C. to play the game.
We've been duped. Instead of actually using their 220 IQs to answer humanity's toughest questions, the group just whines and bitches about various subjects, receiving "points" from the bad guy whenever he agrees with them or appreciates their hard honesty. It's like a ridiculous combination of Speed, ESPN's "Around the Horn," and a game of Truth or Dare. (In case you're wondering by now: No, this is not a comedy.)
The production itself is bargain basement. I don't mean low-budget and resourceful, I mean cheap. Too often times, poor audio design makes the game's participants sound distant. And a flashback scene in a hospital is so obviously shot in a spare office of some kind it's tough to take seriously.
As for the so-called game, it plays out with arguments you'd hear in Philosophy 101 classrooms. One could assume that, in order to write dialogue spoken by brilliant experts, it would help to talk to one while writing the script. Such research seems lacking, as does general fact-checking: In a TV news report that appears early in the film, a reporter calls a potential nuclear attack "eminent." Um, I think the word you're looking for is "imminent."
All this trouble is made worse by a weak cast that sound like they just got their SAG cards (exceptions being Sizemore and Stephen Baldwin). Things are at their silliest when the President - played by B-actor Jack Scalia - gives a pep talk to a pro ball player in the group, staring eye-to-eye and uttering baseball-isms that sound like Zucker-style satire. "Now you get out there and hit it out of the park... Yes sir, Mr. President!" With this much cheese, I was looking for crackers.
And reality. The dialogue between Secret Service and the President seems, well, made up, with no sign of authenticity. When we meet the aforementioned baseball player, he's actually carrying a baseball with him. Huh!? And the country's biggest brains, faced with having to solve the world's problems, offer no information I didn't already know. And trust me, I certainly don't have a 220 IQ.
Through all the core flaws and eventual tedium, Chey's thinking is admirable, that we must be firm in our own self-awareness and knowledge to understand the world around us. There's a sense of Judeo-Christian ethic wrapped around it, which may help explain the participation of born-again Baldwin. (In fact, producer Arch Bonnema was part of an exploration team that believes they may have found proof of Noah's Ark.) Regardless, without a strong execution, such concepts are idealistic, not interesting.
I am so smart! I am so smart! S-M-R-T! I mean S-M-A-R-T!