The Wizard (1989)

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To celebrate the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Famicom, the Japanese video game system by Nintendo that was later adapted for the North American market as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), I’m reviewing The Wizard. It’s a 1989 Fred Savage vehicle that many consider as simply a 100 minute commercial for Nintendo.

It’s a fair point, considering the amount of times the NES is trotted out during the proceedings, and the number of Nintendo games that are played herein. You might be surprised to learn that The Wizard actually has some heart, and not just the cold, calculating, withered heart of a soulless corporation. It’s a family drama that doesn’t wade into excessive melodrama, and it brings some acting talent to the table.

Savage plays Corey Woods, a young boy who lives with his older brother Nick, played by Christian Slater. Call me crazy, but I’ve always enjoyed watching Slater on-screen. Although, admittedly, I’ve never seen the movie version of Alone in the Dark. Both boys live, on uneasy terms, with their dad Sam, played by Beau Bridges. Sam is divorced, and his third son, Jimmy (Luke Edwards), lives with his ex-wife and her new husband. Jimmy has behavioural issues stemming from a traumatic experience, and is placed in an institution. Corey then runs away with Jimmy to satisfy his little brother’s fixation on California, and in the process learns that Jimmy is a video game savant. Teaming up with fellow runaway Haley (Jenny Lewis), they make their way to Universal Studios Florida to enter the young prodigy in Video Armageddon, the ultimate video game tournament. This, while being chased by a sleazy child bounty hunter, as well as their father and brother.

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The Story comes off like Rain Man Jr., but there’s a reasonable arc concerning the family coming together, as well as the slow reveal of what Jimmy keeps in that yellow lunchbox and why, so I’ll give it a point (+1). The Look is pretty flat; you can tell that director Todd Holland works almost exclusively in TV, with his only other feature film of note being Krippendorf’s Tribe. You’ll be forgiven for forgetting that film ever existed. So zilch (0) there. Overall Casting gets one (+1). Edwards gives a detached and haunted performance as Jimmy, and Fred Savage is of course, Fred Savage. There is actually a lot of character development for a video game commercial. Commitment to Genre scores a full two (+2), as the movie both presents a heartfelt family story, as well as aggressively shills Nintendo product, so it accomplishes what it means to do.

Sub-total: 4

For some reason, I love the overly dramatic introduction of the Power Glove, carted around by hotshot video game punk Lucas in a special case like Tom Cruise and his pool cue in The Color of Money. (+1)

I’ll also add a point for Lucas’ classic line for his assessment of the peripheral: “I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad.”. (+1)

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(+1) for the rockin’ 80’s soundtrack, because I always give a point for rockin’ 80’s soundtracks.

One point (-1) is subtracted for Putnam being some kind of notorious child bounty hunter (a niche profession I don’t think you could get away with, these days), although he has no idea how to remove a kid from a crowded pubic area without making a scene.

Plus one (+1) for “He touched my breast!!”.

(-1) for the sexy junior cocktail waitresses selling candy in a Reno arcade.

One point down the pipes (-1) for the large amount of gobbledegok about points scoring during the final competition featuring Super Mario Bros. 3. Sure, the movie is presenting this highly anticipated game before it has actually been released to stores, but the scores rising and falling arbitrarily just doesn’t make any sense.

So The Wizard ends up with a score of 5. It’s a decent family film, which classic video game nostalgia bumps up a level. We leave you with a still from the movie, featuring an alarmingly young Tobey McGuire as one of Lucas’s stooges.  That’s him on the far left.

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Be sure to check out theDotEaters.com for more video game history 101!

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