When I was a kid my mom was in a bowling league that met on Tuesday afternoons. When we weren’t in school, we kids would tag along. We would hang out in a room where we would play games and watch scenes from Disney movies while the moms bowled. Then one day, something wonderful happened. The bowling alley built an addition…a massive arcade they called Galaxy World. From now on, we spent our time in the arcade instead of the bowling alley. The arcade was the place to be in the 80’s, sadly those days are gone. However, our movie today takes us back to the time of Pac-Man Fever…it’s 1983’s Joysticks.
Jefferson Bailey (Scott McGinnis) runs his grandfather’s arcade, and it is a popular hangout for the teens in town. Also working at the arcades is geeky new employee Eugene (Leif Green) and McDorfus (Jeff Greenleaf). The place is a nonstop party, that is until trouble strikes. A pompous local businessman, Joseph Rutter (Joe Don Baker), has become dismayed that his valley girl daughter, Patsy (Corinne Bohrer) is spending all her time at the arcade. He is determined to get the place shut down.
First, Rutter’s dimwitted nephews try to steal all the games in the arcade, but Jefferson and the gang are too smart for that. Soon, Rutter starts to organize a group of protestors to raise public outrage over the less than savory activities that happen at the arcade. In the end, the fate of the arcade comes down to a one-on-one video game battle between Jefferson and a punk recruited to work for Rutter called King Vidiot (Jon Gries…yep, Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite).
Joysticks takes advantage of two things which were very popular in 1983: video games and raunchy teen comedies. Having spent so much time in video arcades myself, I did have a certain degree of nostalgic fun with this film. The arcade is filled with games that I used to love to play, but haven’t seen for almost 30 years. This film also features something I never saw in an actual arcade, an area for one-on-one video game battles featuring gigantic joysticks that it takes two hands to control. Way cool! Unfortunately, nostalgia only goes so far. Once you get past that you realize that this film is a rather weak attempt to do Animal House in a video arcade. Heck, Jefferson and McDorfus are essentially Otter and Bluto. Needless to say, the film comes nowhere close to achieving the laughs that the boys from Delta House generated.
Most of the young cast don’t really manage to be that funny or interesting, with one major exception. Corinne Bohrer is pretty funny doing the valley girl routine. She showed up in a handful of 80’s comedies like Vice Versa and Police Academy 4, where she was the love interest for Bobcat Goldthwait’s Zed character. The films she appeared in weren’t necessarily prestige flicks, but she often manages to be funny and I got a kick out of her performance here.
Of course, the big recognizable name in this one is Joe Don Baker. Baker’s certainly appeared in a wide variety of films, from Goldeneye to Leonard Part 6. His sputtering, over-the-top approach to the villainous role here is certainly fitting for the material. However, his character is lacking in that cartoonish level of villainy that a film like this really needs.
While there are a few moments of nostalgic fun peppered throughout, it’s not enough to save this film. As raunchy 80’s teen flicks go, Joysticks is pretty lame. However, it did make me wish for one last Tuesday afternoon hanging out at Galaxy World.