Daniel Heaton’s review published on Letterboxd:
Living in the UK, I dont feel like 'The Wizard' had quite the same impact over here as it did in the US. Speaking to my US pals, this is a VERY nostalgic experience for them. Almost all of them have memories of seeing this in the cinema, or at the very least, picking up the VHS. The gamers in amongst them talk about the sequences involving the (then unreleased) latest Nintendo game "Super Mario Bros 3" as something of a 'core memory' from the time.
So having gone into this film completely blind barring a group of Americans telling me that it was SO weird, but a key part of their childhood, I really didnt have much in the way of expectations for this thing. But i've got to be honest, I had quite a bit of fun with this thing.
Its a pretty standard roadtrip movie as brothers Cory and Jimmy flee their respective parents with the aim of going to California. Along the way they meet up with a young girl by the name of Haley who, ONE; finds out that Jimmy is INSANELY good at video games, and TWO; tells the pair that theres an upcoming competition called 'Video Armageddon' with a $50k cash prize and the prestige of being the ultimate gamer.
The boys are intreagued, and thus a journey of life, love and self discovery begins! with Cory and Jimmys dad and a hired private investigator hot on the gangs trail with orders to bring them home. Will they manage to make it to the competion or wind up getting a game over!?
The scripts a little slow to get started but around 3/4 of the way into its opening act it finds its feet and from their we get a fairly lightweight zippy script that isnt particularly challenging, is DRENCHED in early 90s stylisation and is *largely* tonally pleasent.
It does have its faults, that opening act is a little sluggish, they keep details about what exactly is going on with Jimmy deliberately vague, but that does hinder the plotting a bit as it makes him a harder character to connect with. and while the tone is largely alright, theres a LOT of weird and uncomfortable moments in this thing. Mild spoilers but a sequence in which two truckers try to hunt the kids down and steal there money, followed a little later in the movie with a scene where Haley accuses one of the investigators whos trying to grab Jimmy of touching her breasts (when he hadnt) made me do a double take frankly that the film would even go there.
It's also strange in the fact that, bring blunt. This is a near hour and three quarter advert for Nintendo, and yet; Nintendo arnt really the key focus of the film until the 3rd act. Yes; Nintendo consoles pop up infreuently throughout, the 'Powerglove' gets an airing and Super Mario Bros 2 is briefly glimpsed. But the main focus of the film is always on the kids adventure over the games and consoles themselves which almost take a back seat for most of the runtime. Even when they do pop up, it's mainly for 3rd party titles like 'Double Dragon', 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' and 'Castlevania' Honestly; this is more an advert for Konami than Nintendo.
Beyond that though, this is a somewhat wobbly, but charming movie that has memorable and quotable dialogue, well paced scenes and is absolutely every inch as cheesy and 'of it's time' as it's possible to be. I couldnt IMAGINE a kid born after 1998 watching this thing with anything other than utter bafflement and boredom. but for kids born between 1978 and 1998. I imagine it'll give you a MORE than hearty nostalgia blast.
The direction and cine are more than of standard, it's a studio picture and it feels every inch of it (On top of this being an advert for Nintendo and Konami, Universal Studios get MORE than a decent stint in this film to sell you a vacation) Everythings about as polished as it can be for a mid budget kids film, visually its drenched in kids culture 1988-1994 and the cine is rich. With largely solid compositional choices, decent use of B-roll and depth of field and lively camera that isnt afraid to get up to some panning or tracking action.
As for the performances, theres a wonderful energy between Fred Savage, Luke Edwards and Jenny Lewis. I try to avoid talking about child actors performances when writing these kinds of reviews. But I will say as a triptic? They brought a lot of energy to the picture, seemed to be having fun, and given a lot of the movie lives or dies by how they handled their scenes together they more than carry this thing.
Jackey Vinson as Lucas is a solid 'baddie'. As is Will Seltzer as the private investigator Putnam. If anything the baddies in this film almost feel a bit out of place compared to usual kids film baddies. they go a little bit extra comparatively and I feel it only adds another strange layer to this wonderfully weird experiment of a movie.
All in all? I cant kid myself that this thing is anything other than an extended attempt at selling kids on an NES, the Powerglove and the near 100 games (at the time) that were available. It fails at the first rule of advertising however, which is that the focus should always be a call to action for your ONE product. it should be 'BUY THIS!' not 'Buy this! and this! and this!' As such, the advertising has a weird relationship with this film in the sense that, the film wouldnt make sense without it, but because SO MANY corporations want a piece of the pie, the message the film ultimately wants to send gets lost in the mix.
That being said, despite the clear intention of the picture. I had fun with it. It reminded me heavily of movies like 'Mac and Me' in terms of tone and vibe, in fact the pair would probably make for a hell of a double bill.
Is this thing gonna hold the attention of the average 21st century kid these days? ABSOLUTELY NOT. this thing might as well be dubbed into a foreign language with no subtitles for all the relevence its going to have to todays children. But if your a glassy eye'd nostalgic X0-something and looking for an hour and 40 gateway back to a time when cerealboxes had toys in them, restaurants had 'smoking sections' and making your food or drink 'green slime' coloured/flavoured was about as appitising as it got. I can almost guarentee you'll have a fond time with this thing.