The Wizard

"Grim"

The Wizard Review


I know a whole lot of people with vivid memories of The Wizard. It came out in 1989, during the heyday of the original eight-bit Nintendo videogame system, and, like a lot of Nintendo commercials, you can imagine that it was pretty convincing to the target audience. The movie is supposedly about Jimmy (Luke Edwards), a kid who has a specialized mental illness that makes him really good at videogames, and his older brother Corey (Fred Savage), who hauls Jimmy across the country to compete in a videogame championship. As is often the case in shlocky family films, this dangerous and senseless runaway jaunt somehow brings a broken family together.

But even the cheap melodrama can't match the movie's primary concern, which is advertising Nintendo and Nintendo accessories, especially the then-brand-new Super Mario Brothers 3. At the time, a ticket to The Wizard came with a miniature issue of Nintendo Power magazine; it should've come with a subscription. Come to think of it, the DVD should at least be packaged with some back issues, for proper ambience.

It might help someone like me get into the mood. Though I am in the age group that should have affection for The Wizard, I didn't meet the interest-height requirements to see it at the time. Watching it today, without any nostalgia, is a curious experience - almost literally, as you ask yourself why Beau Bridges or Christian Slater, whose careers were both humming along at this time, are in this movie as the other members of Jimmy and Corey's dysfunctional (all-male, natch) family.

There's also the added curiosity factor of young Jenny Lewis, who plays Haley, a streetwise gambler of a preteen who accompanies the other kids on their trip (she and Fred Savage have sort of an It Happened One Night in Elementary School thing going on). Lewis went on to front the excellent rock band Rilo Kiley and release her own folky solo record; though she's the only member of the principal cast to more or less give up acting, she also gives the most spirited and entertaining performance of the bunch. You can see the quirky stylishness of an independent-minded rock star in Haley, who makes it seem almost amusing that three kids are traveling unaccompanied through the skeevy bus stations of our United States. But all the moxie in the world can't explain how she knows where to find warp whistles in the climactic unveiling of Super Mario Brothers 3, which the movie makes great pains to say has never been played before (indeed, that fact seems to be a major reason for the movie's existence).

The Wizard was directed by Todd Holland, who went on to a fine career in television (My So-Called Life, Felicity, Malcolm in the Middle), but this film shows little of the realistic emotional touches that dot even his more outlandish TV projects. The closest The Wizard can come - at least as it's been explained to me - is in its recollection of a simpler time, when there was just one Nintendo system, and it was so dominant kids would pay to see a run-of-the-mill comedy-drama just to catch a glimpse of a new game (now entire franchises already look PlayStation-ready). Still, the movie's industrial-strength product placement and slumming stars at least make The Wizard a unique exercise in crappy '80s moviemaking - which has now become a unique exercise in crappy '80s nostalgia.



The Wizard

Facts and Figures

Run time: 100 mins

In Theaters: Friday 15th December 1989

Box Office Worldwide: $14.3M

Budget: $6M

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Production compaines: Universal Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 28%
Fresh: 5 Rotten: 13

IMDB: 6.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Ken Topolsky, David Chisholm

Starring: as Corey Woods, as Jimmy Woods, as Sam Woods, as Nick Woods, as Haley, Vince Trankina as Tate, Wendy Phillips as Christine Bateman, as Bateman, Will Seltzer as Putnam, Dea McAllister as Councelor

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