When I was 6 year old, as most kids at the time was addicted to Nintendo. It was 8-bit Video Game Heaven. Super Mario Brothers, Kung Fu, Tiger Heli, Donkey Kong Jr, Excitabike, Duck Hunt, Wild Gunman, Legend of Zelda, Rad Racer, Mike Tyson, Ninja Gaiden and Double Dragon… You get the point.
As do with all youth phenomenon: Transformers, Garbage Pail Kids (That movie still creeps me out though I enjoy it), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rad, etc. They had to do a movie. Not just any movie and no, “War Games” is not a Video Game Movie, “Tron” likewise though it became a cool game, and screw you, if you tell me “The Last Starfighter”.
The movie that highlighted the “Nintendo Era” was “The Wizard”. Starring the Tom Hanks of child actors, Fred Savage who was also doing “The Wonder Years” (Winnie Cooper may or may not have introduced me to eventual manhood, a few years later, well her or Kelly Kapowski) and became the youngest actor to be nominated for an Emmy as a Comedy Lead.
Fred plays Corey, a young tween who is part of a broken family. In events that pre-date the present of the film, Corey’s half-little sister Jennifer tragically drowned in a river when she and her autistic (they never say he is autistic but it is implied) twin brother Jimmy (Luke Edwards, who would later star in one of my other family child movies, “Little Big League”) were walking along the river. The trauma of the tragedy and Jimmy’s condition led the family to divorce. Jimmy, since her death has runaway many times trying to go to California, which is the only word he ever speaks since her death.
Corey lives with his older brother Nick (Christian Slater) and his father (Beau Bridges) who work as landscapers while Jimmy lives with his mother and his step-father who are at their wits end with Jimmy running away all the time so they decide to put him into a home for children like him. Corey is upset when he finds out what is going to happen to Jimmy, so he busts out of the home to take him to California to prove once and for all that Jimmy is ok.
They trek from Utah to LA. Along the way they meet Haley (Jenny Lewis, who at the present day became an Indie Rock Princess), a fellow runaway who’s going back home to Reno, Nevada. Haley is a tween like Corey who’s story is her mother was a degenerate gambler who walked out on them and lives with her father is a Trucker who travels the states. It’s never said and this is purely assumption, I think her father gave her up for adoption or to live with relatives and she chose to runaway to be with her dad which explains her vagabond ways. I don’t think he necessarily abandoned her, he given his work probably couldn’t raise her and he thought it was the best thing to do.
Corey and Haley immediately notice, Jimmy is pretty amazing at Video Games. He is a savant and since they need the money to get where they are going decide to “hustle” Jimmy to unsuspecting boneheads at the Video Arcades with the goal to sign-up Jimmy for “Video Armageddon”, the Nintendo Video Game Championships at Universal Studios Hollywood (Grand Prize is $50,000). They meet the video game version of Johnny Lawrence named Lucas, though instead of no-mercy brutal Cobra Kai Karate, he has a lame Nintendo Power Glove and douchy curly hair. He’s the competition for Jimmy at “Video Armageddon”
While they continue to go to the Championships, a Sleazy Runaway Hunter named Putnam hired by Jimmy’s mom and Stepfather chases them with Jimmy and Corey’s Dad and brother Nick also pursuing them though they care about them unlike that Sleaze. After outwitting the Dad and Nick, Putnam nearly grabs Jimmy in Reno and gets away only to be confronted by truckers who are friends of Haley’s dad who were cleverly told by Haley that he touched her breast. A black eye to Putnam later, Jimmy is back with Corey and Haley on their way to Los Angeles.
They get to Universal Studios Hollywood and sign Jimmy up for the contest much to the dismay of Lucas. Jimmy dominates the first round and makes it to the finals against Lucas and this butt-ugly nerdy girl named Mora with weird coke bottle eyeglasses so you know that she is a geek. The emcee of the event is this really LOUD! Australian dude, not that it matters but I just want to point it out.
Putnam and the Dad and Nick finally track them down and give chase around Universal Studios. They have to finally ditch them in order to make it for the Final Showdown or Jimmy will have to forfeit, so it’s now become a… RACE AGAINST TIME! They finally ditch him and Jimmy makes it to the Final Showdown without a second to spare.
The LOUD! Australian announces a hitch for the Final Showdown, the new contestants will be playing a BRAND NEW VIDEO GAME NO ONE HAS EVER PLAYED! (did ALL CAPS for effect of the LOUD! Australian) and that game, SUPER MARIO BROTHERS 3! (this is the part where I scream like a lil girl watching the movie) The best Nintendo video game ever!
The Final Showdown happens! Putnam is too late and is fired by Jimmy’s mom and Stepfather who make it to see Jimmy play as does his Dad (who became addicted to video games himself on the road while looking for Jimmy and Corey) and brother Nick who root for him to win. It’s a neck and neck match-up amongst the 3 Gamers… Jimmy appears to be about ahead until he loses a life in the game. SHIT! Then he loses another… DOUBLE SHIT! Lucas acting all tween smug douchy is ahead but then, it happens… Jimmy finds the WARP WHISTLE! HELL YEAH! and gets into the Warp Levels! picking up points left and right and catching up to Lucas… The final seconds are going down… will Jimmy win?…YES! DUHHHHH! Jimmy defeats Lucas! THEY ARE RICH!
The parents start to see what Corey was trying to do (Like the Poets Smith and Jazzy Jeff said “Parents Just Don’t Understand”) and decide to not put Jimmy in a home. On the way back home with Haley joining them, Jimmy gets excited when he sees a big Dinosaur and they stop the car.
It’s Cabazon Dinosaurs in California, a Tourist Trap destination that would be considered lame by most (yours truly included) but this place holds a special meaning to Jimmy. This is where Jimmy’s been trying to go. The whole movie you notice that Jimmy was very protective of the lunch box he was carrying. Apparently in that lunchbox carried mementos of Jimmy’s twin sister included in the mementos was a family picture of the whole family at Cabazon Dinosaurs years ago. He wanted to leave those mementos at the place in honor of his lost sister. I shed a half tear… The family at peace then drives off home to Utah and Corey and Haley kiss. It’s Happily Ever After.
They never say what happens to Haley but the movie in my head after “The Wizard” has the Dad and Mom adopting Haley and she lives with them in Utah while her dad occasionally visits. The family is reunited and happy. Nick takes over the family business while the dad retires to Florida. Corey and Haley stay in love, get married with children and grow up to own a chain of successful Video Arcades where they also take care of Jimmy who teaches the kids at the Arcade how to play video games.
I will be very honest about this movie. It really is a 100 minute long Nintendo/Universal Studios commercial (Yes, Universal was the film company behind this movie). But you know what, I still love this movie because within the core of this movie lies a heart within the story despite the script’s flaws and the marketing driven aspect of the film to sell more Nintendos. I personally think the direction (Todd Holland, the director would go on to have success as one of the key creative influences behind the hit TV show, “Malcolm in the Middle”) and the acting made the absolute best of a inherently flawed script which makes the movie work. Something that resonates to you and it brings back a fun time in the late 80’s/early 90’s when Video Games really became popular, which is why I think it is cult film today.
This movie worked despite it being a TV commercial-driven film for Nintendo unlike “Mac and Me”, which was a blatant knock-off of “ET” that was essentially at it’s core a McDonalds/Coca Cola commercial (one scene involves Ronald McDonald dancing at a McDonalds for no reason to the plot) which tried to “fake a movie” with no heart and think people would be stupid to buy it up.
I can write three blogposts about how bad “Mac and Me” was. See for yourself:
“The Wizard” Must see for those who loved Nintendo, Fred Savage, Jenny Lewis and Kids Movies in the 80’s/90’s.
-V. for Vinnie