The Wizard (1989) / Comedy-Family
MPAA Rated: PG for some violence and mild language
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Fred Savage, Jenny Lewis, Luke Edwards, Beau Bridges, Christian Slater, Will Seltzer, Wendy Phillips, Sam McMurray, Jackey Vinson, Steven Grives, Frank McRae, Lee Arenberg, Tobey Maguire (cameo)
Director: Todd Holland
Screenplay: David Chisholm
"I love the Power Glove. It's so bad!"
The Wizard is accused of being nothing more than a 100-minute commercial for Nintendo, but I don't think that's a fair comment. It's also a commercial for Reno, 7-11, and Universal Studios.
Normally, such blatant product placements throughout a movie detract from the movie experience, but in this case, it's one of the rare times it works. Let's face it, if not for the showcasing of the video games, especially of "Super Mario Bros. 3" (which was a sneak peak at the time of the film's release), there probably would be nothing interesting at all.
Fred Savage (The Princess Bride, Goldmember) stars as Corey Woods, who runs away with his troubled, institutionalized half-brother, Jimmy (Edwards, Newsies), to travel to Los Angeles and compete in a Nintendo tournament called Video Armageddon. With almost no money or means for transportation, getting there proves to be a real chore. Luckily, they befriend another kid, Haley (Lewis, Foxfire), who helps them to gain enough money to keep them on their way, using Jimmy's prodigious skills at playing video games to hustle the local yokels for quick and easy cash. Meanwhile, Corey's father (Bridges, The Fabulous Baker Boys) and brother (Slater, Heathers) are out to get them back, along with a hired bounty hunter (Seltzer) looking to nab Jimmy and stick him back in the institution on behalf of his mother (Phillips) and stepfather (McMurray, Raising Arizona).
The Wizard barely merits talking about as a film, with its juvenile mix of Rain Man and Tommy, it doesn't really see its characters or story as anything but a means to its product placement ends. Surprisingly, they did recruit actual recognizable actors to play in the film, especially Fred Savage, Christian Slater and Beau Bridges, so at least they had some notion to try to make the film palatable, even if the emphasis is on shilling more merchandise. Oddly, Bridges, a multiple Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor, can't seem to figure out how to use the simple Nintendo controller without looking like a twitchy moron. That's not nearly as bad as having to see Frank McRae pretend to drive a truck. Perhaps the adults of the film were told to act like ninnies in order to make the kids appear smart and talented?
Although the film is quite poor in many respects, for some reason, it's also difficult to hate. Really, it's fun to see the Nintendo products, even if they are presented with the subtlety of an infomercial. A film that features so much late-1980s camp value is enjoyable on quite another level, perhaps not intended at the time of its release. It's one of those movies that has anyone who was a teenager in 1989 saying, "Oh yeahhhhh! I remember Nintendo Game Counselors! I remember this hideous New Kids on the Block song!", and suddenly feeling much better about himself for actually living during a time when one's parents would travel around to every shop in the city for weeks to get the next "Mario Bros." game for their bratty, undeserving kids for Christmas. To keep the snot-nosed kids from hounding them incessantly for months, and to show that they loved their children as much as your next door neighbor Tommy's parents do theirs, proved worth the effort to them somehow.
There are only two groups of people I could ever recommend a movie like The Wizard to: young boys aged 6 to 13, and adults who were of that age range back in 1989. If you've kept that original NES around for almost 20 years, perhaps in the same box that contains those back issues of "Nintendo Power" that you couldn't bring yourself to throw away, you're exactly the kind of person that would get the most mileage out of this otherwise insipid film.
Actually, there is one more group that will get a kick out of this -- those who love the campy 1980s films. A movie this full of so many pop culture references and sappy, glossy scenes of kid drama can only produce smiles of delight at how cheesy it all is.
Listen! Can't you hear them now? They're all waving their DVD in the air and triumphantly proclaiming to the world, "I love The Wizard! It's so bad!"
©2006 Vince Leo