Thursday, March 1, 2018

Game Boy

The Wizard
Director: Todd Holland
Cast: Fred Savage, Christian Slater, Beau Bridges, Luke Edwards, Jenny Lewis
Released: December 15, 1989

I had totally forgotten about the existence of this movie (and with good reason!), but was reminded of it when I binged watched a TV show late last year. You're probably thinking it was when I watched The Wonder Years, but it was actually watching The Goldbergs (which, if you think about it, is this generation's Wonder Years) as they had an episode dedicated to this movie. It was more dedicated to the Power Glove ("I love the Power Glove!"), but this movie gets a shout out in that episode when Adam goes to see it. When I watched it, I was like, "Oh, yeah, I remember that terrible movie! I should review it for my blog". And so here we are. Now it's been a long time since I've seen this movie. I may have seen it in the theater; I may have seen it at school (you know, when you had those "free" days, so the teacher just plopped you down in front of some PG-rated movie?); or I may have seen it at home on video or TV. All I know is that this is a terrible movie. Definitely the low point to Fred Savage's otherwise impressive young career. (I believe he filmed this between the second and third seasons of The Wonder Years, but don't quote me on that).  Let's see, all before the age of fourteen, he was nominated for an Emmy, hosted SNL, was on Oprah, had a cameo on Seinfeld, and starred in The Wizard. It's like, Which of these things don't belong with the others? 

In case you're not familiar with this movie (and how could you not be familiar with such a classic?!), it's about three kids who hitch hike from Middle of Nowhere, Utah to Los Angeles to attend a video game competition at Universal Studios. It's basically a commercial for Nintendo (including the Power Glove and Super Mario Bros. 3) and Universal Studios mixed into a movie that's Rain Man for children.

Half the time, I literally didn't know what was going on. Okay, I knew what was going on, I just didn't understand how any of this was possible. It absolutely made no sense how three kids (two thirteen-year-olds and one nine-year-old) traveled from Utah to California all by themselves without getting murdered or kidnapped or taken advantage of and the fact that NOBODY seemed concerned that these three young kids were always by themselves. Actually, they were taken advantage of when they hitch a ride with some cattle drivers and they see the kids counting their cash (which is literally less than $30) and pull over so they can rob the kids and leave them on the side of the road.

So I should probably set up the backstory: the nine-year-old is an autistic boy named Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards) and he's the younger brother to Corey (Fred Savage) and Nick (Christian Slater). Their parents are divorced and the two older boys live with their father, Sam (Beau Bridges) while Jimmy is in the custody of his mother and stepfather, though he lives in a special home for children with mental disabilities. He spends most of his time alone, playing with building blocks and he barely talks, only to utter single words occasionally. (Like "California"). Apparently he had a twin sister who drowned in a river a few years earlier while he was right there and watched it before his very eyes. Eesh, for a movie that is basically a commercial for Nintendo, that is a very bleak backstory! However, for some strange reason, the movie decides to keep this information hush hush until the middle of the movie when it is revealed. Maybe if we had known it right from the beginning, we would understand why Jimmy acts the way he does. Oh, and he's also a video game aficionado and has some mad gamer skillz.

Corey (by the way, everytime someone called Fred Savage "Corey", I would think, Corey is the one from Boy Meets World; this is Kevin!) decides he's going to get Jimmy and they're going to take a little trip to California, for really, no reason at all! And it is quite easy and convenient for him to break his little brother out of a place that really should have better security (in fact, it seems to have no security at all!) They hop into a Hostess truck and get out at a gas station. There are a lot of stupid montages of the two boys (and later three kids) traveling to Los Angeles. One of these is even set to "Send Me an Angel" when they get a ride from the Hell's Angels. I did laugh when the two brothers are spending the night in a place called Goblin Valley and they hear a wolf howl and Corey sarcastically says, "Great."

It's 16 miles to the Promise Land...
When they get to the train station and try to purchase two tickets to L.A. (which is laughable because they only have $27 dollars and it costs over $200) they come across a girl named Haley (Jenny Lewis) who is traveling to Reno, where she lives. No idea why a thirteen-year-old girl is traveling by herself, but she decides to butt her way in with the two boys after she sees how good Jimmy is at Double Dragon and thinks they should travel to the video game tournament at Universal Studios since the grand prize is $50,000 and they can split the prize if he wins. Never mind that you think you would have to sign up for a competition like that. Apparently you can just show up and enter. Which is exactly what happens later in the film. So stupid. Along the way they con people out of money by betting them that the young boy can beat their score at whatever video game is at the diner/gas station/restaurant they come across. So here's a fun fact: while I'm not familiar with Jenny Lewis, I am familiar with Rilo Kiley and she was the lead singer of that band (I guess they're no longer together...I only know one of their songs, to be honest, which is "With Arms Outstretched").

Also traveling towards California to look for the kids are Sam and Nick and a bounty hunter named Putman hired by the mother and stepfather (uh, why aren't they calling in the police for help?) who doesn't want the boys' father and older brother searching for them since he only gets paid if he brings them back. Don't you think more people searching for these kids would make more sense? There's a running gag throughout the movie that whenever they come across each other in the same small town, they slash the other's tires or they take a shovel to the other's car and smash out the headlights.

You're right, Lucas, it IS bad!
One of the best scenes of the movie (and when I say "best", I really mean "worst") is when the three kids come across a kid named Lucas. Oh, yes. If you've seen this movie, you know all about Lucas. Lucas is like the teen idol of the video gaming world. He is the only person that Jimmy is too scared to play against when Corey and Haley try to make a bet that Jimmy can beat them. You see, Lucas has a secret weapon known as the Power Glove. In an extremely horrible line delivery, after he straps on the glove, he says, "I love the Power's so bad!" Bwahahaha! He then proceeds to play a car racing game (I believe it was called Rad Racer?) with the glove. I was really confused because the glove has a numeric keypad on it, but he never uses it. So, what's the point of that, anyway? Now I never had the Power Glove, nor did I know anybody who had it so I've never had the fortune (misfortune?) to ever see it in its glory. However, I heard it was absolutely awful and didn't even work or just barely worked. Doing some research on Wikipedia, I discovered it came out in 1989 (makes sense since the movie came out the same year) and was discontinued in year later! It cost $75, which is equivalent to $148 in today's currency. No way I am paying nearly $150 for something that doesn't even work! Think of all the poor parents of the late '80s who were duped by this thing! I really thought the Power Glove was going to appear again during the tournament, but this is the only scene in the movie where it makes an appearance.

How did these kids
get into a casino?
Haley is a real piece of work. Know why? When they get to Reno, she finds her dad's trucker friend named Spanky and enlists him to play a game of craps (she's familiar with the game because her mother is (was?) a gambler). He listens to her instructions and wins them $400. Guess how much Haley gives Spanky as a thank you? TEN DOLLARS! Yes, ten freaking dollars! WTF, you little snot? I would think $100 would be a more reasonable payment. Also, how the hell did three children get to enter a casino? Were the rules a lot more lax in 1989 Reno? I did learn something from this movie which is that Reno is known as "The Biggest Little City in the World". It really makes no sense that she's from Reno because that is way out of the way on their way to L.A. They should have made her from Vegas, at least that would have made more sense, geographically. Also, Haley falsely accuses a man of touching her breasts, but I can forgive her for that because the man she accuses is Putman and she screams this in the middle of the arcade as he is grabbing Jimmy. He is escorted out of the building, but gets his chance to kidnap Jimmy later when he finds Haley's address and grabs him there. Haley gets her dad's trucker friends to block off the road and stop Putnam from going anywhere and they are able to get Jimmy back and Spanky drives them the way of the rest to Los Angeles. (Though if I were Spanky, I wouldn't drive them anywhere until I got the rest of my deserved money!)

To get ready for the tournament, while they were staying at the hotel in Reno (which they were able to afford with their $390), Haley calls a Nintendo Hotline to ask questions about specific video games that they need help with. I don't know how this Video Armageddon works, but apparently they are getting Jimmy prepared for all 97 (!!!!!) video games that could possibly be played at the tournament. Holy shnikeys, can you image if you had to prepare and study for 97 video games? Even if you LIKED playing video games, I think that would suck majorly! Of course, Lucas has all 97 games and knows them like the inside of his Power Glove (haha, see what I did there?) So what I want to know was there ever an actual Nintendo Hotline kids could call and ask questions to beat certain aspects of a game? I remember there were little cheat books you could buy to help you beat a game and gave you clues of what to do. My brother bought the cheatbook for the PC game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (shout out to anyone else who had that game!) and it was really a godsend and helped immensely. I assume the Nintendo Hotline was a real thing since everything else in the movie pertaining to Nintendo was real and they were just advertising it. I am surprised that they didn't have Haley saying the phone number out loud as she dialed it so it would get more advertisement!

We arrive at Universal Studios where apparently you don't need to purchase a ticket to get into! Spanky just drops them off literally right inside of the theme park and they just walk up to the building where Video Armageddon is taking place and Jimmy is given a number. They go inside where about fifty kids are playing video games on small monitors while the people in the audience (mostly kids) cheer them on. I remember the monitors the games being played on are much bigger, but those will come later in the movie. Right now there's just a bunch of kids playing Ninja Gaiden (whatever that is) on small TV screens. I can't imagine anything more boring than watching that. Well, I can, but that has to be on the bottom of my list of things I would most want to watch! You hear the announcer before you see him and at first I thought it was Christopher Lloyd because it sounded a lot like Doc Brown, but it wasn't him. The kids have ten minutes to play the game and the three with the highest scores will go on to be the final three in the ultimate championship to determine who will be the winner of FITY THOUSAND DOLLARS!! This includes Jimmy, Lucas, and some random girl with braids and glasses

Hey, there, l'il Tobey Maguire
(front left)
The host tells them they will be playing a brand new game and they will convene back in fifteen minutes to start. Haley is angry about a new game being played, but I think that's fair. At least everyone is starting on equal ground. Not only are the kids at Universal Studios, but so are Jimmy's mother and stepdad and Sam and Nick and Putnam. Lucas sees him and points the kids out to him. He's with a posse of his friends which include a young Tobey Maguire with a mullet. He has no lines, though. I guess you got to start somewhere! The kids are chased around Universal Studios and they sort of just run into the undergrounds of one of the rides with King Kong which I'm pretty sure is illegal and anyone doing that would be stopped in a nanosecond, but during this time apparently there was no security at all at Universal Studios. (Why should there be when you can just pop in there without purchasing a ticket?) There's even a scene where the kids are hopping from tram to tram while being pursued by the bounty hunter and nobody blinks an eye or realizes how dangerous this is. However, there is one sensible woman who asks the children, "Where is your mother?"

It's T minus two minutes until the finals are about to start and Lucas and the girl with braids and glasses are ready to take their places. The countdown clock gets down to ten seconds and there's still
no Jimmy which makes Lucas happy, but of course, he makes it at the last second and all three kids are about to play the new game...which is...wait for it.....WAIT FOR IT......SUPER MARIO BROS. 3!!!! WHAT?!??! I LOVE THAT GAME! OMG, can you imagine how excited kids were when they saw this? This was a preview for the game because it actually was't released until two months later in February 1990. When I watched them playing this game, it bought back a lot of nostalgia because I totally remember playing it. And this is when they play it on the huge monitors which is where I remembered that from. You know what I really hated? Those plants that heaved the fireballs at you and the only way you could stop them was if you got the flower power and got your own fireballs to heave back at them. The kids have ten minutes and whoever has the highest score at the end, wins. It looks bad for Jimmy when he loses two of his lives quite quickly, but he makes a quick comeback. Haley keeps yelling at him to, "Get the star, Jimmy, the star!" In the last ten seconds of the game, he gets like, ten thousand points (okay I may be exaggerating a little!) and wins the championship. Yippee.

The movie ends with a sappy scene of the family reuniting and Jimmy going to live with his two older brothers and dad. I have no idea what happened to Haley, though. I guess they just dropped her off in Reno on their way back to Utah. I wasn't sure about how family life. It sounded like her dad was always out on the road being a trucker and her mother was a gambler. Wonder if they split the money with her and she was able to buy a house like she wanted to? Though I don't know if $25,000 would be enough for a house even in 1989?

Yeah, this movie is just absolutely awful. However, I did re-live certain parts of my childhood when I heard Zelda get a shoutout or watched them play Super Mario Bros. 3 or heard two (yes, TWO) New Kids on the Block songs played in the background. Oh, and I loved Haley's wardrobe as it was so '80s.

A couple years ago I did a video review of five of my favorite video/PC (mostly PC) games, so if you haven't heard that, you can listen to it here.

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