Guilty Pleasures – The Wizard


There were two things I loved in 1989, Nintendo and the Wonder Years. The movie The Wizard gave me the bizarre opportunity to combine both of them. My mom took my brother and I to the movies to let us experience this first hand. We left that theatre elated. I hadn’t seen the movie in the following 26 years until last weekend. I’ll proudly admit (if you couldn’t guess based on the title of this article), I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it still.

Now make no bones about it, this is not a good movie in a way shape or form. Sometimes though you can coast through something solely on nostalgia despite how bad it is. Other times though nostalgia just isn’t enough.

Let’s get the plot out of the way first since it’s asinine and moderately nonsensical. Fred Savage is the product of a broken home. He lives with his dad Beau Bridges and older brother Christian Slater. His youngest brother, Tommy lives with their mom and asshole step dad. We find out later than Tommy had a twin sister who died in a drowning accident two years earlier which caused the split in his family.  Presumably because of this, Tommy has become withdrawn and showing signs of a mental disorder which seems an awful lot like autism but is never specifically mentioned. He doesn’t speak except to wistfully say “California” occasionally and as the movie starts we find out he’s been put into a mental home. When Fred Savage discovers this he stages a plot to bust him out and bring him to California.

The two begin hitchhiking from Utah where they find that Tommy who has never played a video game in his life excels at the medium and is kind of a savant (his name itself possibly being a homage to the Who Rock Opera). So they begin hustling people to make more money to travel with. They run into a young feisty grifter named Hayley that they begin working with. Hayley is played by indie music darling Jenny Lewis, which makes The Wizard even more strange and interesting to me. From here the movie turns into combination of the Hustler and Rain Man just with arcade games. Their end goal is this massive Nintendo tournament being held in Universal Studios in L.A.


Meanwhile, Tommy’s mom and asshole step dad have hired some kind of child bounty hunter to get him back no matter what the cost. It’s really, really creepy and this is a violent guy. Christian Slater and Beau Bridges are also trying to track Tommy and Fred Savage down resulting in many altercations with said bounty hunter. The kids eventually get to California and win the tournament at about the same time everyone reunites. They actually become a family again and wrap everything up in a neat little package.

The biggest knock against the movie is that it’s basically just a huge ad for Nintendo which it unashamedly is, but honestly why else would anyone be watching this? At one point you see this super “hip” teenager using the power glove and damn does he make it look awesome, I bet they sold hundreds of them alone based on this movie. I say hundreds because despite everyone thinking it was rad as hell when I was a kid I didn’t know a single person who actually owned one. There’s a part where they call the Nintendo Hotline to get tips which I thought was interesting to see because those ads were always in Nintendo Power, but also doesn’t make sense since Tommy was so goddamn good he didn’t need that shit.


You also get to see a ton of arcades (which always make me nostalgic) plus a bunch of Nintendo games that I had no idea were actual arcade games. The sheer amount of video games in this movie is staggering. Double Dragon, TMNT, Super Mario 2, Ninja Gaiden, Metroid, Contra, Mega Man a couple of racing games etc. However, the big deal about this movie is they introduce to the viewers your first glimpse ever at Super Mario 3 one of the greatest games ever released for the Nintendo. That’s acutally the final game in the tournament which is fucked up but kind of smart since it gives none of these kids the edge and puts them all on equal footing with a new game. You get to see a ton of the first world, a toad house, the first castle and a warp whistle. That’s a pretty damn effective ad. Although, the fact that Tommy instinctively knew where to get that warp whistle (or magic flute as they call it) is pretty insane, but whatever.  Not to mention the winner of this tournament is determined by points and Tommy won the game by using the whistle giving him enough points to come out victoriously. Does using the whistle even give you points? My gut says it doesn’t since you’re not using it in actual level but on the world map.


This movie is full of these weird inconstancies which you’d think for a movie designed to sell video games they’d pay a little more attention to. The first time Tommy plays a video game it’s Double Dragon and you see him bashing the fuck out of the arcade controls and on the screen it’s just the intro scene to the game where your girlfriend gets kidnapped and you have to just wait, you’re character isn’t even on screen yet. “You got 50,000 points in Double Dragon!?!?” Or the fact that Christian Slater is bringing a Nintendo with him on his search for his brothers and sets it up everywhere he can, the mechanic’s, the hotel room, etc. It doesn’t matter. The best part is he doesn’t have to coaxial any of that shit up, he just puts it right on top of the TV and it’s working. You also get to see Beau Bridges fuck some shit up on TMNT too.

It’s a really stupid movie but for me there’s some charm in that. 1989 is a perfect year for nostalgia for me. It’s on the cusp of the 1990’s but the world is still wrapped up in the 80’s. A time gone by when no one had cell phones, shitty music dominated the air waves and video game ruled the world. I ask you, what’s so wrong about that?

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About Biff Tannen

Film Noir, Pulp, Comic Books and Hitchcock.

Posted on July 1, 2015, in Features, Guilty Pleasures, Movies, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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