While looking around for goofy 80s movies on Netflix, I was surprised to find Joysticks, a movie I’d never heard of, but set in one of my favorite cultural artifacts from my childhood: the arcade. From the looks of the poster alone, you get the feeling that this movie’s in the vein of Meatballs. Reading the synopsis about a group of kids trying to save their favorite arcade from a mean old adult in town, my brain immediately went to Empire Records and that combination of those two favorites worked very well in my brain. I moved the movie to the top of our Netflix cue, but between that and actually getting it, I mentioned it to my pal and VHS Notebook proprietor Rickey Purdin who told me he had an extra copy of the DVD I could have!
I think watching Joysticks with Rickey and some of our other pals would have made the viewing experience a much better one because I was kinda disappointed with this flick. I hoped for something along the lines of Animal House as far as mixing fun characters and situations with bits of heart and lots of humor, but instead this movie basically lifts the plot of the John Landis classic, changes it ever so slightly, adds some Pac-Man wipes accompanied by sound effects and puts the whole thing in an arcade.
You’ve got cool guy arcade manager Jefferson Baily running a group of misfits while fighting the chicks off with a stick and dealing with Joe Don Baker who wants to shut the place down because it offers no moral benefit to the kids who line up to play the games therein, specifically his daughter. Said misfits include the nerd Eugene (as if you needed to be told that) and Dorfus, a Hawaiian shirt-wearing combination of John Belushi’s Blutarsky and Stephen Furst’s Flounder, who happens to know everything about video games. There’s even a scene where Dorfus and Eugene go to Baker’s house for reasons that still don’t make a lot of sense and wind up reliving an awfully familiar scene. Oh and much like the nefarious Dean of Faber College, Baker’s wife wants to bone any male within reach. And of course there’s a big meeting at the end where the “good guys” defend themselves against the “bad guy” in a town meeting style scene (that happens to have a ridiculous number of those Pac Man wipes).
I’ve seen plenty of rip-off movies and enjoyed them, but the real problem with Joysticks is that it doesn’t have a single interesting or unique character AND it’s not that funny. The closest you get to interesting and new is the fact that Eugene — who’s so stereotypically nerdy that I wanted to punch a wall (same problem I had with Gorp) — happens to be the guy who explains the misunderstandings that run rampant in the movie. Meanwhile, the best joke in the whole thing is a weird visual thing where the punk rock gamers — run by an emotionally unbalanced young man who goes by Vidiot — go into the arcade and do a whole Pac-Man riff where they moved around like the ghosts. I laughed hard at that…and that’s about it.
The odd thing about the movie is that it also feels completely ridiculous because I have trouble imagining arcades coming under such fire. Was this really a thing? I wouldn’t be surprised it it was, but the goofiness of the movie — not to mention how crappy it looks — make me doubt everything going on. On the other hand, the movie acts as an inadvertent (I assume) allegory for the kind of scrutiny that comic books came under in the 40s and 50s as chronicled in Davi Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague. You’ve got a thing that parents don’t understand so they attack it. Of course, the parents back then had more of a legit complaint considering how crazy and violent some of those comics got. Still, it’s that classic generational argument of new technology/entertainment coming under fire because, as Fresh Prince so deftly pointed out, parents just don’t understand.
Yes, I’m overanalyzing Joysticks. That’s because I wasn’t super into this movie on my own so I was trying to come up with something interesting to talk about. I think it would have been a completely different story surrounded by friends and filled with beers. I really wanted more from an arcade movie because I don’t know of many other examples of this kind of thing. However, if you’re looking for a goofy comedy PACKED with T&A and a gigantic joystick for playing PVP arcade games, Joysticks is right up your alley.
The number one benefit of watching Joysticks, though, was that it reminded me of an arcade-set story idea I started working on a few years ago. I think I’ll dig that one out and see how far I got with it in the relative future.