1989 - PG - 100 Mins.
|Director: Todd Holland|
|Producer: David Chisholm|
|Written By: David Chisholm and Ken Topolsky|
|Starring: Fred Savage, Luke Edwards, Beau Bridges, Christian Slater and Jenny Lewis |
|Review by: Bill King
"The Wizard" can be best described as "Rain Man" for kids. A traumatized young boy, Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards), and his brother, Corey (Fred Savage) travel across the western United States on their way to California. Jimmy has a gift for video games; he instinctively knows how to rack up the points and reach the upper levels with little help. That's where the similarities end, however, since this movie allows its commercial aspect to dominate the narrative. Nintendo peaked in popularity during the late '80s and most of the '90s. Universal cashed in on that trend by filling this movie to the brim with Nintendo references, including the unveiling of Super Mario Bros. 3, one of the most highly anticipated games ever.
Forget Playstation. This is classic gaming.
Amidst the Nintendo mania is a story that could have been better if more thought had been dedicated to it. Jimmy's twin sister drowned a few years back, and now he has retreated from society. He doesn't talk and ignores most people. His mother, Christine (Wendy Phillips) and stepfather, Bateman (Sam McMurray) want to get him institutionalized. His older brother, Corey doesn't want to see it happen, but his father Sam (Beau Bridges) doesn't have legal custody and therefore has no say in what happens to Jimmy.
Corey takes it upon himself to free Jimmy from the hospital and to go on a trip from their home in Utah to California, where Jimmy has this unending desire to go. Later, their trip will turn into a quest to reach the Video Armageddon competition at Universal Studios, though initially, Corey's plan is downright foolish. Just what did he have in mind when planning this trip in the first place?
Jimmy and Corey make their way west while their father and older brother Nick (Christian Slater) follow. Also on the trail is Mr. Putnam (Will Seltzer), an expert in retrieving runaways. Christine hired him, but he finds trouble along the way when he meets up with Sam. They impede each other's progress, because each wants to find the boys first.
Meanwhile, Jimmy and Corey meet Haley (Jenny Lewis), a girl who has hit the road because her mother is gone and her father is negligent. She knows a little about traveling alone, so she offers to help them, and even proposes that Jimmy go to Video Armageddon to win the cash prize of $50,000. A victory would convince Christine that an institution isn't necessary.
Most of the film shows the children traveling across the country via desert highways, earning cash by betting against other gamers who think they're better than Jimmy. Jimmy's rival is Lucas (Jackey Vinson), another video game master whose specialty is utilizing the power glove, a Nintendo controller worn on the right hand. Lucas has the worst line in the film: "I love the power glove. It's so bad." Bad, of course, means cool, and he thinks he can win over Haley with his playing skills and "bad" dialogue.
The Video Armageddon scene is treated with all the excitement of a sports movie showdown. The two rivals go up against each other in a nerve-wracking battle for the cash prize. Lots of screenshots of Super Mario Bros. 3 appear, although it's cleverly hidden in the guise of a competition to ward off any thoughts of the finale being an extended commercial. The power glove and the Universal Studios tour get ample amounts of attention in their respective scenes, making the film's commercial aspect more apparent.
The writer is David Chisholm. I don’t know how he got the job, but I suspect he was commissioned to write this script with the condition that he include lots of Nintendo references as bait to lure in Nintendo fans, and hide the movie's bait by supplying a sentimental story.
The movie turns out to be better than it has any right to be, because there are some good scenes between Beau Bridges and Christian Slater, as well as between Fred Savage, Luke Edwards and Jenny Lewis. Chisholm may have seen right through Universal's plans, so he included some good comedy and brief moments of wit to try to redeem "The Wizard." It doesn't work, but it was a good try.