Joysticks (1983) — Totally awesome video games!

“I am half the leader you think I am!”

Justin’s rating: A new low score!

Justin’s review: Remember how in Wayne’s World how an out-of-touch businessman made decided to cash in on the groovy video game trend and sponsor Wayne and Garth? If that clueless guy decided to make a movie instead, it’d probably be Joysticks.

Lowbrow director Greydon Clark reportedly came up with the idea for this film when he saw how many kids were lined up outside of arcades in the early 1980s, and so with a budget of $300,000 and three weeks to shoot, Joysticks was born.

Let’s be honest here: There isn’t much of any substance here. It’s a breezy, silly, and occasionally geeky outing that takes the Porky’s teen sex attitude and shoves it into a rather crowded and ill-defined video arcade. It’s here that Jeff (Scott McGinnis, who played “Mr. Adventure” in Star Trek III) runs a popular (and honestly filthy) gaming establishment with his two employees: slob Dorfus (Jim Greenleaf) and ultra-stereotypical nerd Eugene (Leif Green).

It’s only when Patsy (Corinne Bohrer), who has the most amazing valley girl accent I’ve ever heard, frequents the arcade one too many times does her wealthy father (Joe Don Baker) get riled up to launch a campaign to shut down the place. I mean, that’s your plot right there: Semi-angry dad gets mad about video games in 1983 and tries to sabotage, protest, and blackmail a little business into closing. He even enlists two henchmen and a punk kid known as King Vidiot to do his dirty work.

So it’s the snobs vs. the slobs, which is a genius format that certainly never appeared any other time that decade. The whole thing culminates in a showdown of Super Pac-Man, a game that I only vaguely remember playing because everyone was beyond tired of Pac-Man by this time anyway.

It’s about as refined as a three-week movie project that you’d expect it to be. The director constantly overcompensates for a lack of plot, set dressings, or decent lighting by throwing as much entertainment your way as possible. There’s a lot of risqué escapades of the sort that only serve to embarrass kids who are caught watching this when their parents walk into the room. Much better are the over-the-top personalities and the occasionally laugh-out-loud lines. It’s a movie where parties are thrown, bad guys get their comeuppance, the soundtrack is hilariously bad, and even the mayor is converted into a gamer by the end credits.

What was the real disappointment is that for a movie that ostensibly is about video games… it’s really not. I was hoping for more of an insight into gamer culture of the early 1980s, but it’s more like the games are set dressing that could’ve been swapped out for any other type of kid hangout in that time.

At times, Joysticks comes off as a satire that someone might make today to mock the tropes and trends of teen ’80s movies. If it was any less committed to the premise or any more inhibited, it wouldn’t be amusing, but… it kind of is. It’s silly. It’s dorky. It’s awful. It has Joe Don Baker freaking out. It has Patsy cracking me up every time she opens her mouth.

There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes.

Didja notice?

  • This opening sequence is like a nostalgia bomb of early ’80s arcade hits. Can you name them all?
  • Most arcades had a crazy monk addicted to games
  • Punks like to come into arcades pretending to be real-life Pac-Man
  • Farts are effective for clearing out villains
  • Patsy’s accent is high-larious
  • That van has a functional hot tub inside of it, which doesn’t seem smart
  • The Pac-Man screen wipes
  • We don’t recommend you use your tongue to play public video games
  • Random act of violence against a potted plant
  • Well, those are the tiniest motorcycles ever
  • “Pac-Man arthritis” is a medical condition
  • Have 10 minutes before a competition? It’s time for a training montage!

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