The Wizard (PG)
IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Universal; Wikipedia
Okay. So I guess this came out in 1989, but I wasn't aware of it at the time. I don't remember when exactly I did see it, but it must have been the very early 90s. I saw it on TV, and since I'd never heard of it before, I was under the impression that it was a TV movie. It wasn't until many years later, when I was looking it up online that I learned it had been theatrically released. In fact, when I was first writing a review for my site, years ago, I included it in the TV section. (I didn't remember it well enough at the time to say much of anything about the movie, though.) But anyway, now I've watched it on DVD, to refresh my memory. And I still enjoyed it. Um, apparently it got bad reviews, but at the same time, a lot of people seem to like it specifically because it was bad. And I can understand that. There are definitely things about it that are lame, and even the things I genuinely like about it aren't great. Still, I think it's a better movie than most people give it credit for. As for the complaint that it's basically just a long advertisement for Nintendo, and to a lesser extent Universal Studios... that doesn't really bother me. For one thing, I find the movie more enjoyable than the appearance of the games in it. Of course, I've never been a hardcore gamer, so most of the games are unfamiliar to me, anyway. But I'm saying... the movie did not instill in me any desire to play the games. I will say there's one scene with a Power Glove, which is something I was probably aware of, but certainly never had. But when I watched the scene this time around, I couldn't help thinking the concept seemed a lot like a Wii controller. (Not that I'm likely to ever own a Wii, either; and I'm sure the Wii is a hell of a lot better than the Power Glove.)
Anyway, enough of that. Let me see if I can explain the plot. I'd actually like to start by trying to give an idea of the family situation of the characters, but I'm not at all sure I understand it, exactly. I know that this guy named Sam Woods (played by Beau Bridges) had two sets of kids. His oldest is Nick (Christian Slater), and then there's Nick's brother, Corey (Fred Savage). Sam also had a boy named Jimmy, and his twin sister, Jennifer. I think the twins' mother, Sam's second wife, was Christine, who is now married to a guy named Bateman. And if I remember correctly, Corey said at one point that Christine never really managed to see him and Nick as her kids, when she and Sam were married. But I didn't really follow all that perfectly. Nor do I have any idea what happened to Sam's first wife. But anyway, Sam is currently raising Nick and Corey, while Christine and her new husband are raising Jimmy. However, Jennifer died some time ago, and since then, Jimmy has been in a basically autistic state. He doesn't really say much, and he keeps wandering off, trying to go to California (all these characters live in Utah). Finally, Bateman decides Jimmy needs to be put in an institution. So Corey breaks him out, so the two of them can run away together. Christine and Bateman hire a guy named Putnam to find them and bring Jimmy back. Meanwhile, Sam and Nick (who don't have a great relationship) also take off in search of both boys. (Their relationship will improve over the course of their search.)
Corey and Jimmy are soon joined by a girl named Haley (Jenny Lewis), who is going home to Reno, Nevada, where she lives with her father, a trucker who's usually away from home because of his job (we never actually see him). When Corey and Haley realize Jimmy is a "wizard" at arcade games, she gets the idea that the three of them should go to Los Angeles, so he can compete in a tournament called "Video Armageddon," the grand prize for which is $50,000. The idea is that if he can win that, it will prove he doesn't belong in an institution... though Haley has her own plans for her cut of the prize money, as we'll eventually learn. Anyway, the three kids start doing whatever they can to get first to Reno, and eventually to L.A. This means a lot of walking and hitchhiking, as well as hustling other video game players to make money. They also have occasional run-ins with Putnam. Meanwhile, Putnam has occasional run-ins with Sam and Nick.
Um... so, I'm not sure how much else I want to say about the plot. Except, the DVD I got is a double feature with Cloak & Dagger (which I watched the night before I watched this). That movie had a scene with killers chasing a kid on a tour boat, so I thought it was amusing that this movie had a scene with Putnam chasing the kids on a tour bus. I definitely thought the chase was more fun in this movie, but on the other hand, the stakes weren't as high, since Putnam didn't want to kill them. Of course, Jimmy eventually gets to his tournament, and quickly becomes one of the top three finalists. (Another finalist was a kid named Lucas, who they'd met earlier in their travels. He was the one with the Power Glove I mentioned, and became Jimmy's only real rival.) I won't say who won the tournament, but even when it was over, there was one more important scene before the end of the movie, which was about Jimmy doing what he had to do to obtain closure over his sister's death.
And... other than that, all I can say is there are things I found amusing in the movie (some intentionally, and some unintentionally). And there were some genuinely heartwarming things. Sort of. There were also things that simply made no sense, and things that were just plain lame (without becoming humorous through their lameness), and some jokes or other lines that just... fell flat. And pretty much the whole runaway road trip was ill-conceived, and set a bad example for kids. But after all, I think it's true of most movies, that characters can be rooted for even when they're doing things they absolutely should not do in real life. In fact, the one line I remembered best from when I first watched the movie years ago... is Haley falsely accusing Putnam of something that in real life it would be truly horrible to falsely accuse someone of. (And she did it twice! He's damn lucky he only ended up with a black eye because of it.) Of course, Putnam made it clear to the audience very early in the movie that he was a bad guy, who did things he shouldn't do in the course of his job. But the fact is, he was just doing his job, and yet just because he's been cast as "the bad guy," it's supposed to be funny to see "the good guys" do things to him that were worse than anything he did. I think I find it less amusing now than I probably did when I was a kid, though I suspect that even then, I may have had a problem with it. (I forget.) Nevertheless, on the whole I liked the movie, both ironically and unironically. Maybe that's partly due to nostalgia. Partly it's because I like the cast (at least the actors I've specifically named). And partly because it's so uncool. And uncool is cool, dammit.