Awfully Good: The Wizard

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Adam Sandler can battle video games in PIXELS. I’ll take Kevin Arnold doing the same in…

The Wizard (1989)

Director: Todd Holland
Stars: Fred Savage, Jenny Lewis, Luke Edwards


Fred Savage takes his autistic half-brother and the girl from Rilo Kiley on a cross country road trip to play Nintendo.

THE WIZARD is a 90 minute commercial for Nintendo, simple as that. It exists as a mechanism to excite impressionable children about the world of video games and show off what (at the time was) cutting edge technology. It also wants you to buy things. Consoles! Games! Power Gloves! It doesn’t matter, as long as it has “Nintendo” on it. And of course the best way to impart this consumer message is to remake RAIN MAN for kids. 

No one can resist this hand…

You may think I’m exaggerating, but that really is the plot of this movie. The Wonder Years’ Fred Savage runs away from home, kidnaps his developmentally-challenged half-brother from a hospital, discovers his condition causes him to be awesome at video games, and forces him to travel across the country to play in a Nintendo tournament for his benefit. Swap out the 8 year old for Dustin Hoffman and the catchphrase “Wapner” for “California” and you have the exact same movie. Except RAIN MAN didn’t have Kevin Arnold forgetting about Winnie Cooper and macking on every girl in sight. 

…Not even Tobey Maguire! (Yes, that’s really him.)

Luke Edwards (LITTLE BIG LEAGUE, NEWSIES) has the easiest acting job ever as the titular wizard Jimmy. He essentially only has one line of dialogue (“Califooooornia!”) and he gets to play video games the rest of the time. The filmmakers never actually bother to explain what’s wrong with Jimmy though. He exhibits all the symptoms of autism, but they also throw in some trauma about him watching his twin sister drown. It’s only one of the many aspects of THE WIZARD that’s unnecessarily confusing. I’m still not entirely sure how Fred Savage’s Corey is actually related to Jimmy. I think he’s his half-brother from his widowed dad’s former marriage to his second wife, who has since remarried and now has sole custody of Jimmy with her new husband. (I think.) Even when the movie introduces future Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis as ginger teenage vagabond Haley, they have to give her a complex backstory too. Haley apparently wanders around the country alone because her dad is a truck driver who has to work constantly to pay off her Vegas stripper mom’s gambling debts and she needs money to buy him a house. 

Damn, why did you have to make my Nintendo movie so complicated?

Christian Slater knew he would have to do things to make it in Hollywood, but this was one Bridges too far.

The majority of the film follows Corey, Haley and poor Jimmy as they travel from Utah to California with no transportation or money—doing things for their love of Nintendo that no kid should have to do. We see them hitchhike with a motorcycle gang, a group of redneck truck drivers (who rob them) and some random Native Americans. They spend the night alone in an auto junkyard and in an abandoned drive-in theater in the desert. And to make money, they use Jimmy to hustle middle-aged businessmen (who apparently also love Nintendo) and assorted teenagers (who rob them again). They also meet up with Lucas, a hardcore gamer who knows all 97 Nintendo games and also has a special relationship with his Power Glove, and a trucker named Spanky. And don’t forget that the movie constantly has to plug Nintendo throughout all these misadventures. When Haley admits that her parents lost their house to gambling, Corey compares her hardship to Link’s quest for Zelda.  There’s even an extended sequence when Haley calls Nintendo HQ so the movie can show off their office and all the hip white teenagers that work there. 

“Sparkle Motion, dammit! I’m still committed!” 

But there’s also subplots! Turns out Jimmy’s mom hired the world’s nerdiest bounty hunter (think “accountant with a bolo tie”) to track down the child at whatever the cost. The guy literally drives around the country grabbing random children until he finally stumbles upon Jimmy in a casino in Reno, at which point Haley falsely accuses the man of molesting her so they can make their escape. (Another great message for the kids, Nintendo.) (Also, if a man is accused of fondling the breasts of a pre-teen, shouldn’t he be arrested, not just thrown out of the building?) Also hot on Jimmy’s tail is his dad Beau Bridges and half-brother Christian Slater. Watch as the estranged father and son repair their relationship by bonding over Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES!

Lucas felt pretty confident ever since he bought a shirt that let everyone know he had No Fear.

Eventually, all the characters converge for the Video Armageddon tournament at Universal Studios Hollywood. Nintendo lets Universal take a turn blatantly plugging their brand with a random chase sequence on the studio tram tour, so you conveniently get to see all the major rides and attractions. (The tour guide even yells “Just sit down and have fun, dammit!”) The video game tournament itself is an amazing sequence, filled with over-the-top set design and the nerdiest 80s kids in the Western Hemisphere. Trust me, you’ll get a kick simply out of seeing what the extras are wearing or how weird the emcee is. The final “battle” between Jimmy and two other gaming virtuosos (including Lucas) is less exciting though. Nintendo uses it as a platform to show off the then-unreleased Super Mario Bros. 3, so you actually just get to watch someone else play the game for five minutes while people yell out great dialogue like, “That’s the magic flute! Use it! It opens the warp!” 

Honestly, were there no other extras available for this scenes besides this old man in a Speedo? 

Of course Jimmy wins Video Armageddon—healing his emotional wounds, uniting a fractured family, and proving that, through Nintendo, all things are possible. 

Lucas declares his feelings for the Power Glove. BONUS: The best “breast” moments.

Enjoy watching Fred Savage get punched, Fred Savage macking on the honeys, and the cheesy 80s goodness of Video Armageddon.  

Jenny Lewis says the word “breast.” Does that count?

Strap on your Nintendo Virtual Boy and buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • Jimmy says, “California”
  • Something is an obvious plug for Nintendo
  • The kids do something that’s illegal, unsafe or a bad idea
  • Beau Bridges damages a car
  • Someone says the word “breast”

Double shot if:

  • Someone pages Mr. Johnny Love

Thanks to Anton and Tyler for suggesting this week’s movie!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.


About the Author