Few movies have ever dwelled in pits of infamy quite so deep as The Wizard, Nintendo's 100-minute video game commercial that vaguely masqueraded as a real movie. From a critical standpoint, it's one of the most perversely slaughtered flicks I've ever seen. The gripes are obvious: it's not a movie, it's an infomercial. And while many argue that it's not even a very good infomercial, let me tell you something -- I was ten when this beast hit theaters in 1989, and at the time, I considered The Wizard an absolutely perfect film. Roger Ebert might've had a more publicized opinion of the movie than myself, but who's thoughts really mattered more? Some old guy or a ten-year-old who ate, drank, and slept Nintendo?
That said, it's definitely only going to be palatable for kids. Trying to make it through this thing again nowadays is about as regarded of an idea as having my fingernails pried off by the discouraging graze of a condor, with the most scary realization being that there actually exists a person capable of hammering out a script like this. The Wizard isn't a problem merely because it's just a promotional vehicle for Nintendo -- it's a problem because my 76-year-old senile Aunt Gracie could punch up better lines for hip teenagers than they did. I liked it at age 10, but seriously doubt I would've felt the same had I been even three or four years older. The Wizard should've been able to keep kids well into their late teens interested, but the entire thing goes down the tubes once you hear the villainous cool kid's pickup line: "I love the Power Glove. It's so bad."
I don't find much fault with the flick having so many obvious promos for the Nintendo Entertainment System and its many game titles, because honestly, that's exactly what I wanted to see. I wanted Mario and Samus, right up there on the big screen. What, you really think all the little boys were going to see this for Fred Savage? Granted, Fred Savage isn't without his charm, but I don't think I remember his name being brought up too often during kickball games or summertime lightning bug-smashing sessions. Nintendo? Hell, that was all we talked about.
And yes, you get a lot of Nintendo in The Wizard. In the movie's skewered take on society, pretty much everyone in the damn world played the thing. Every retail establishment across the country had coin-op arcade machines, which for whatever reason, played the same 8-bit games you could only play at home in real life. I'm serious - there isn't a person in this flick who isn't obsessed with Nintendo games, and I'm talking about everyone from kids to middle-aged salesmen to Beau Bridges wearing his 'Blame My Agent' T-shirt. If you're in The Wizard, you knew how to body blow on a Bull Charge.
Ostensibly the story of three kids traveling cross-country on their way to the Great Hollywood Video Game Super Tournament, The Wizard came and went in a flash, but still managed to collect a not-too-dreary 14 million at the box office. Of the many kids who saw the movie in that 14 million dollar bracket, I'd say all the promotion was worth far more to Nintendo than the ticket revenue. AND THAT'S WHAT FRED SAVAGE SAYS, TOO!!!!
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There he is, ol' Blue Eyes himself. This flick was filmed either just before of very early into The Wonder Years, so Fred didn't act with the confidence of Jesus quite yet. This is also before he got that disease that made him incapable of aging past age 20. He's actually not too bad in The Wizard, blowing his previous performances in such classics as Little Monsters clear out of the water.
Fred plays Corey, a smooth hipster with a baseball cap and a will to dream. Living with Brother Nick and Father Sam, Corey constantly worries for his estranged half-brother, Jimmy. See, Jimmy lives with his mother, and the family rarely gets to see him. Making matters worse, Jimmy is a troubled boy who spends most of his time running away to 'California.' I put 'California' in quotation marks because that's the only word Jimmy says for 96.4% of The Wizard.
There's Jimmy, played by Luke Edwards. It appears that Luke learned his trade during adolescence in Dracula's little known underground Schvool Vof Vafcting, unless he took his part as the quiet, disenfranchised child to mean that he should act dead. There's a serious difference between 'troubled' and 'dead,' but Luke had no problem blurring the lines. Jimmy's parents, specifically his stepfather, are considering putting him into an institution for his incessant runaway behavior and generally boring disposition. Corey isn't a fan of the idea - no half-brother of his is going to any clinic. Fred Savage to the rescue!
I'm going to have to condense a lot of the scenes together into these paragraphs, because much of The Wizard feels more like a documentary - a day in the life of the most uninteresting runaway kids in history. So with a finger on fast-forward and another pointing directly at the television so I can properly illustrate how much I want for it to stop sucking, Corey 'kidnaps' Jimmy and the duo head off to Caleefornee. Problem is, Corey doesn't have any money. Hollywood is an expensive town.
At a bus station, Corey tells Jimmy to amuse himself with some of the arcade games while he tries to solve their financial problems. Amazingly, Jimmy tackles the dangerous levels of 'Double Dragon' with a skill of an expert, thoroughly trashing the purple-haired shirtless ninjas and even that butch biker chick with the whip. Corey is impressed, very impressed. "UGOT 50000 POINTS IN DWUBBLE DWAGON?!!" This, evidently, is an accomplishment worthy of chest cavity implosion.
It's here that the boys first meet Haley, a girl on her own played by Jenny Lewis. They consequentially become a trio of doom, with Haley convinced that Jimmy can take home the 50,000 dollar grand prize at the Supercalifragilistic Mega Video Game Tournament in Los Angeles. Corey is a skeptical, but whatever, they were on their way there anyway.
I'm not sure I would label Haley as an 'antagonist,' but she's certainly very very very loud. With that mane of fiery hair, it's almost like watching a lion tackle an antelope whenever Haley says anything to Corey. The fun-loving threesome decide to team up and trek towards California together, forming a group just two parents shy of a nuclear family. There's supposed to be some sexual chemistry going on between Corey and Haley, but I've seen Fred Savage serve up more romantic scenes with Jason Hervey.
By the way, Corey's dad isn't taking the news of his runaway son and half-son sitting down. With the help of Brother Nick, these crimefighters are hot on the trail of the lost boys. There's a lot of cutaway scenes to Sam and Nick's excellent adventure, but they really don't impact the plot much so I'm leaving them out of the review. Half of their camera time is spent sharing pea-sized beds at sleazy motels while on the chase, and for whatever reason, it all seemed too dirty to vidcap.
Jimmy's stepfather sent someone out on the mission as well - 'Putnam,' a runaway specialist play by William 'Lime' Seltzer, whose scenes provided some much needed comic relief whenever all the suggestions that three preteenagers could hitchhike from Utah to California through the deserts without getting murdered stopped making you crack up.
A big chunk of The Wizard is taken up by extended travel montages, with the kids hitching rides on big rigs and cow transports from city to city and from background song to background song. This seems to last for around thirty minutes, but I can't be too sure since it's the kind of thing that gives you one of those placebo time warps where time only feels like it's standing still. They're on the way to Reno, where Haley lives. It's incredible just how quickly Reno was able to categorize itself as a mandatory stop-off during trips to the California. Then again, they're on the road for what looks to be weeks, and none of them ever seem to change clothes or shower. Maybe Haley wants to drop by home so she can make herself smell less like Jimmy's ass. Maybe Reno's just one of those cities you gotta see, I don't know. And I've just stopped caring altogether at this exact second, so let us summon the powers of the great FF one more time, and skip ahead to scenes that don't inspire banal debates out of disinterest.
The kids need to pick up some coin, so Corey scams some video game-lovin' salesmen into betting that they can beat Jimmy. Of course, Jimmy wins. Now more confident in his abilities, the trio seems sure that they can take home that 50,000 dollar prize check. There's just one obstacle left in their way, though...
See, Jimmy's beaten everyone he's played against up to this point. His ego is magnificent, but still as fragile as ever. A single loss could send him into a tormenting oblivion filled with sadness and crying visits to Fred Savage's fraternal shoulders. At an arcade, an onlooker admits that while Jimmy is 'good,' he'll never be able to beat the town's best video game player. Our heroes are up for the task. Are they ready? Ready to meet the King of Cool and the Master of Mario? Can Jimmy defeat the majesty that is...
Lucas is a cool dude, man. Very cool dude. Very 1989 cool dude, as envisioned through the eyes of the semi-cooked giant oyster hired to write this movie. Lucas chuckles at the idea that Jimmy could take him on, so he provides a demonstration. His posse hooks up the Nintendo system, and unlocks a silver briefcase containing Lucas' ultimate weapon of destruction. It's...THE POWER GLOVE. New in 1989 and shown for one of the first times in The Wizard, Corey and the gang are quite concerned with the presence of this fearful accessory, on sale now at video game stores everywhere.
Using the Power Glove, Lucas casually offs his personal best in Rad Racer. When finished performing, he turns to Haley, clenches his fist in a very Vader-like fashion, and utters what has got to be the most hilarious thing a person has ever said or will ever say:
There's a video clip of this following the review, and it's worth every byte of my bandwidth.
Elsewhere, Father Sam becomes enamored with Corey's old Nintendo. The plugs are coming in fast and furious now -- he even mentions the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles title by name, citing how he 'got up to Mecha-Turtle.' I can't believe Christian Slater went from Heathers to this in the same year, but I guess there were reasons to believe that even a shitty movie about Nintendo games could become a hit.
Jimmy isn't pleased with his poor showing against Lucas, and reverts to his previous behavior of quietly stacking empty popcorn boxes on top of each other. Really, look up, it's there, it's proven. Corey explains their checkered past to Haley - as it turns out, Jimmy's twin sister died in a freak accident while they were playing by the river, and he's taken up this annoying vow of silence ever since. Haley feels really bad for the poor kid, but still finds a way to blame Corey for everything because that's the only way to keep their sexual tension heated.
On the dawn of the competition, Haley calls the 'Nintendo Power Line' to find out the hot tricks and secrets of the games Jimmy might have to play. The product placement is just absolutely insane from here on out -- it's almost as if Nintendo wanted to get that first hour done with under the assumption that none of the critics would ever make it past that point. They knew they didn't stand a chance of being named a 'good movie,' so they wanted to at least avoid all the cries of commercialism. And boy, do they make up for lost time in a big way - the Nintendo references are everywhere.
But like I said, I don't think the target audience really minded all that much. Actually, I remember being a little upset because there weren't enough Nintendo connections in this flick. I felt cheated in a completely opposite way, which kind of sucks since it means that nobody of any age group can watch The Wizard without feeling somehow cheated. I'd blame Corey, but I don't need to keep up any sexual tensions like Jenny Lewis did.
Before signing up for the competition, Jimmy perfects his skills. Oh, forgot to mention this -- the kids won thousands of dollars at the Craps tables in Reno. That's how Corey afforded the swank sunglasses pictured above. Unlike a great deal of The Wizard's plot developments, the glasses didn't just fall from the sky.
The audience received many head-on looks at the games Jimmy was playing, and astonishingly enough, they were all the then-current best sellers for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Mega Man, Contra....they're all here. These are probably the most satisfying scenes in the movie. Just before the kids can enter Jimmy into the tournament, the film's alleged villain finally makes some headway on his evil mission...
Yeah yeah, blah blah blah, 'where's that little brother of yours,' blah blah yeah yeah blah blah blah yeah blah. Yeah, blah. Yeah, blah. Yeah blah, yeah yeah blah. You know they're just killing time, so I'm gonna follow suit. Still, all of this crap leads to the movie's most famous line, narrowly beating out Lucas' 'I love the Power Glove' brainfart.
Finally, Putnam manages to snatch Jimmy up in the arcade, prompting Haley to shout out the only words capable of stopping their adversary:
Okay, that one knocked me out of my seat when I was 10, I'll admit it.
Corey and Haley finally kiss, giving their relationship an anniversary date and giving Corey his very first justified erection. It's not so much said, but it's implied.
There's a whole ditty I'm skipping past where Putnam succeeds in kidnapping Jimmy, only to be stopped by Haley's horde of trucker pals who just happen to be available for a highspeed car chase at the drop of a hat. In the end, they make it to the tournament arena just fine, and Jimmy blows through the first round with no problems at all.
There's an elaborate set for the tournament - looks sort of like a Lazer Tag arena mixed with that wet cave where Shredder converted all the troubled teens in the TMNT movie, only a little cooler since everyone's playing Nintendo. After the grueling preliminary rounds, three finalists are named. One is an ugly girl with pigtails and the correlating snout, but the other two are more familiar to those who invested an hour of their lives into this really long video game commercial...
It's Nameless Ugly Girl...versus Jimmy...versus Lucas! My, how things have come full circle. The competitors take their stations and await their fate -- the host promised that the warriors would be playing a new, never-before-seen game. This, by the way, was The Wizard's biggest selling point. Anyone who saw it got one of the most in-depth looks at a heavily heralded title just about to hit store shelves...
Super Mario Bros. 3. I seem to remember having known about the game prior to seeing The Wizard, but I was still floored by the appearance. Anyone who was into Nintendo at the time probably remembers just how big of a deal SMB 3 was, and for most kids, paying a few bucks was well worth it to see a live-action demonstration on the big screen. The movie, released in December, shamelessly threw up as many kind words for their hot Christmas title as possible. It didn't do wonders for the scope of The Wizard's reviews, but damn, I was salivating.
So yes, the kids play, and it's a close race until Jimmy locates the secret Warp Zone and wins the competition. Everyone's parents and immediate families have arrived at the arena, so no one is in the dark about Jimmy's special talent and newfound riches. The once-troubled boy is crowned amidst a legion of screaming adulators and piles of balloons and confetti, making this the biggest spectacle of a video game competition of all time. The person who cures cancer will have less of a fuss made over 'em.
And they all live happily ever after. Jimmy makes peace with the loss of his twin sister, choosing to leave behind his lunchbox full of memories at the same giant dinosaur statue Pee-Wee fucked Simone in. I'm serious. Haley gives each of her boys a kiss, though there's a little more tongue when she gets up to Corey. Jimmy doesn't mind -- he's pretty tired after playing fifteen minutes of Super Mario after getting kidnapped after trekking from Utah to California mostly on foot for two weeks straight. Those kids must've smelled like Koopa. The end.
Overall: You know, it's really not as bad as a lot of people make it out to be. Eh, well, it probably is, but it's a sentimental fave of mine. If nothing else, it's great for historical reasons -- do you think Nintendo would dare try to pull off something like this today? Probably not, and neither would any of the other big game chains. I know there's plenty of flicks based on hit games, but to make an actual movie that's essentially an advertisement for a home system was pretty brazen. It wouldn't work nowadays, which goes to show you how big of a boom period the industry was enjoying back then.
If that's not a good enough reason for you, remember - you got to hear Beau Bridges say 'Mecha-Turtle.' That's gotta count for something.
VIDEO #1: POWER GLOVE! "I love the Power Glove. It's so bad."