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DIVING INTO DISNEY'S KURT RUSSELL DEXTER REILLY TRILOGY

Dexter Riley Cinema Years in Action are 1968 to 1975
THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES, the first of three Disney "Dexter Riley" films starring Kurt Russell as the leader of a group of eavesdropping science-students at a financially-strapped University, is fun but a tad too plot-heavy and flower-power dated: Dexter gets electrocuted by a computer (giant machines at that time) and his brain becomes one, allowing him to pass tests with ease and excel at anything having to do with facts or memorization...

There's a cookie-cutter blond kid named Peter, supposedly the more well-balanced and popular, or something, and yet Russell, despite a somewhat forced geeky persona, looks and even acts much cooler. In later Dexter films, poor Pete's completely replaced by the much better sidekick in Michael McGreevy as Schuyler, who is in this movie but hasn't become Archie's full-on Jughead quite yet. There's too much emphasis on otherwise entertaining adult actors Caesar Romero, William Schallert and Joe Flynn and not enough of the kids: which is odd during the late 1960's student-driven era, but it's as if Disney wouldn't completely let-go of the old safe middle-aged paunch. Surprisingly, COMPUTER isn't an underdog-revenge team effort like it should be, so the premise gets pretty tired quick... but later improves...

Kurt Russell Now You See Him Lobby Card
If COMPUTER were a "Dexter Riley" TV-series pilot based on his science class University cohorts, the followup, NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON'T would be the best episode overall; the worst being its follow-up and third/last venture, THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD, which, like COMPUTER but even more-so, overplays the grownup input that takes too long for the titular payoff to unveil through barbell lifting gags, etc...

Again, the handsome Kurt Russell looks more like a popular jock than a science nerd, although you forget he's anyone else but the energetic young man who starred in many live-action Disney movies of the sixties and seventies before becoming John Carpenter's own personal Clint Eastwood. In NOW YOU SEE HIM it's mostly about Dexter, his smart/pretty ingenue Joyce Menges, and goofball buddy Michael McGreevy returning more prominently as Schuyler: a unique, oddball, human cartoon that was born for Disney cinema: They create a spray for a science contest that turns things invisible (and to free the school from debt once again)...

Computer: **1/2 Now You See: ***1/2 Strongest: **
The kids follow their clumsy dean Joe Flynn to the golf course: he's a complete hacker trying to impress a millionaire golf-nut who runs the contest. Dexter, sprayed invisible, helps Flynn with his game, which is the funnest part... after which that string of purposely-frustrating "Disney-letdowns" occur: the things that once worked now fail because of a villain's (or nature's) tampering.

The spray is stolen by Caesar Romero, a crime boss with plans to turn the campus into his own Las Vegas. He and muggy cohort Richard Bakalan... always the square-jawed Disney thug but most recognizable as the dead-eye cop who shoots Faye Dunaway in CHINATOWN... become invisible bank robbers. The last act involves a chase between the students, cops, and the bad guys in their invisible car. Here things peter-out creatively for mainstream mindless action, and yet it's still pretty fun and entertaining. So if you wanna meet Dexter watch THE COMPUTER WEARS TENNIS SHOES, but to really know him SEE this second film, first, and skip the third altogether.
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