Director: Greydon Clark
Joe Don Baker, Leif Green, Jim Greenleaf

When you think about it, it's kind of interesting to think of what greatly interested you when you were much younger. It's especially interesting when you compare it with what interests you now. In my case, there are some things that I liked when I was younger that I also happen to like in the present. One obvious thing that I have always loved is movies. Of course, my taste in movies has changed quite a bit over the years, but I've always been up to watching a motion picture. But there are some things I really loved during my younger years that I have little to no interest today. One such thing is bike riding - it eventually became strenuous work instead of the thrill of speeding down a road. Another thing that no longer raises my interest to a significant degree is video games. If you saw how much I loved video games during my younger years, you never would have guessed that eventually I would lose my interest in the hobby. I had the opportunity to play video games in many ways. First I had both an Apple II computer and a ColecoVision console. Eventually I moved to a Nintendo Entertainment System. Then a Genesis. After that, a Super Nintendo, a Playstation, and then a Playstation 2. Yes, I certainly loved my video games. Why did I love video games so much when I was younger? For starters, it was something I was good at. Being lousy at sports, which all my peers seemed to be much better at, it was good to know that I was expert in something that I felt they had no skill at. More importantly, I thought that video games were fun. It was a thrill for me to escape reality for a short time and imagine that I was such things as a skilled soldier or a seasoned spaceship captain. Those games took me places that reality simply couldn't take me.

As I said, I felt I was a pretty good video game player. It was a thrill for me to beat the game Road Runner's Death Valley Rally - without using cheats - and finding out years later that practically every other person on this planet who beat the game had to use various cheat codes to get to the end of the game. I still like to think back on various personal video game moments like those to get feelings of triumph and superiority. But despite that, I no longer have much desire to play video games. I can trace the exact moment when I lost almost all my interest in the medium. I was playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on my Playstation 2, and I was on one particular mission in the game that defeated me over and over. Suddenly a thought popped in my head. That thought stated to me, "Isn't this a waste of time?" I had to admit at that moment I couldn't do anything but agree with that opinion. I shut off my Playstation 2, packed it away, and I never thought about it again. It's still in my closet after all of these years, come to think about it. Anyway, though I pretty much stopped playing video games after that moment, I still had a little remaining interest in video games. There were still a few video arcades in my city. When I was much younger, I would go to arcades to play video games as well as play video games at home. Though after that Grand Theft Auto moment, I also no longer played arcade games unless someone left a credit on a machine. This went on for some time, until one day I dropped into an arcade and I was struck by how young everyone else in the arcade was compared to me. I felt old. Naturally, I didn't want to keep experiencing that feeling, so I immediately exited the arcade and I never went back to that arcade or any other.

Today there are no more video arcades in my city, despite my city being of a significant size. I guess the reason for that is simple - home video games have become so technologically superior to past home video games - and have become more affordable - that it doesn't make sense to go to Joysticksa video arcade. While I don't have very much interest in video games and arcades now, I do admit that there are some moments when I think back to all the video game fun I had all those years ago. I also have to admit that at times I get nostalgic for those days. Which brings me to the movie I am reviewing here, Joysticks. As you've probably guessed, it's a movie concerning video games and arcades. I had the opportunity to watch it years ago when it was on VHS, but for some reason I never watched it back then despite my love of its subject matter. A few years ago it was released on DVD, and eventually a family member sent me a copy as a present. I thought: Why not review it? Watching it might bring back some pleasant memories. The events of Joysticks take place in a community called River City, and ooh, we've got trouble with a capital T! In the city, a savvy entrepreneur by the name of Jefferson Bailey (Scott McGinnis, Making The Grade) has opened a new video game arcade, and the arcade quickly attracts a large sized amount of new customers, one of them being teenager Patsy Rutter (Corinne Bohrer, I, The Jury). Patsy happens to be the daughter of Joseph Rutter (Baker, Framed), a local big shot businessman, and when Joseph finds out that his daughter is hanging out at that arcade, he is livid. With the help of his nephews Arnie (John Diehl, Hysterical) and Max (John Voldstad, An Enemy Of The People), he plans to close down the arcade by any means necessary, legal or illegal. But Jefferson is a smart cookie, and with the help of his friends Jonathan (Greenleaf, Liar's Moon) and Eugene (Green, Grease 2), he plans to keep his arcade open by any means necessary, legal or illegal.

I have to confess that when I sat down to watch Joysticks, I was prepared for the worst despite its promise of showing an era and its gadgets that were once near and dear to me while growing up. And that was because I knew that the director behind the movie was Greydon Clark. Years ago I reviewed Clark's movie Skinheads - which I thought was awful - and between then and now I had seen more of Clark's efforts, like Final Justice, The Forbidden Dance, and Black Shampoo... which were awful as well. But I gritted my teeth and jumped in all the same. After watching the movie, I will give Clark this: Joysticks is probably his best movie. That's not exactly a compliment, as you will see over the next few paragraphs, but it's the truth. That's because unlike some of his other movies, there were a few things in the movie that I found appealing. The most obvious was the nostalgia factor. It was fun to see various video games paraded in the movie that I had long forgotten about, from Satan's Hollow to Gorf. Also fun to see were glimpses of video games that I had no prior knowledge about, some of them looking intriguing enough that I wish that Clark would have identified these games so I could look them up and possibly play them via an emulator on my computer. Another wave of nostalgia came from the songs played in the movie. No, there are no top 40 hits of the time played at any moment in the movie. Instead, there are a number of original songs composed especially for the movie. Okay, okay, they are cheesy to the ear more than thirty years later, but their upbeat and spunky attitude appealed to this reviewer who grew up in the 1980s listening to plenty of songs like these. (I especially liked the opening credits song, with the catchy refrain, "To-tal-ly aw-some vi-d-eo gaaaames!") As a bonus, the movie has its fair share of scenes involving nudity and sexual situations, stuff that I always welcome in a movie and that I think will appeal to just about any viewer who grew up in any era.

So there are a few things about Joysticks that will appeal to those that grew up during its era, and possibly also to others who have interest in the 1980s and its fads. And I will also say that Clark took a ludicrously low budget (only $300,000, according to my research) and managed to make the production look better than some of his other movies. But the seams do show at times, such as a city council meeting room that looks more like a stage found in an elementary school, or the interior of the arcade clearly having been hastily constructed on a small and cramped sound stage. (The arcade, by the way, is never given a proper name - it's just labeled "video arcade" on the sign at the front of the building.) Also, some dialogue is poorly recorded and hard to make out. Actually, having seen more than my fair share of low budget movies, the sometimes shabby nature of the movie did not concern me a great deal. The movie is a comedy with wacky characters, so those are the two most important elements to get right. Unfortunately, director Clark does not manage to do so, though a large part is because of the sorry screenplay he was saddled with. The screenplay, for starters, simply isn't that funny. Much of the humor has a mean-spirited attitude, such as the opening scene when two teenage girls trick innocent nerd Eugene into pulling down his pants, a sight which they get a photograph of and subsequently show around to patrons of the arcade. Much more of the humor could be considered disgusting and tasteless, most obviously with material such as Jonathan's constant habit of loudly breaking wind. But there are more questionable attempts at comedy, like when Eugene and Jonathan break into Joseph's house at night, encounter Joseph's sleeping wife, and Jonathan proposing Eugene "pop" the unsuspecting woman.

Having to sit through scenes like that one, one thought kept going through my head while watching Joysticks: "Are we supposed to like these characters?" I don't think Clark set out to make the protagonists unlikable, but that was my reaction to these supposed good guys. It's not only the writing of these characters that makes them repulsive, but also the way the actors perform in these roles. Take, for instance, the character of Jefferson Bailey, the owner of the arcade. Actor Scott McGinnis right from the start puts a sneer and a sarcastic attitude to all of his character's words and actions, and comes across as a real creep. His biggest defender, the character of Patty, talks in the annoying tone of a valley girl, not helped that the best and most articulate her character can engage in dialogue is by blurting out, "Jefferson Bailey is a totally b*tching guy!" Nobody in the movie seems to be trying hard to be the least bit endearing. That's not to say that all of them don't seem to be working hard. As Jonathan, actor Jim Greenleaf puts in a great effort to be the next John Belushi, but he simply isn't given any material to make his character lovable as well as crude. On the opposite end, actor Joe Don Baker, perhaps realizing that he is in a real turkey, somewhat underplays his role for the most part. But you know what? All the same I welcomed the scenes that Baker was in. By not trying to be disgusting or repulsive, his character actually comes across as kind of sympathetic. Maybe his character has misjudged the arcade, but the Baker character comes across all the same as well-meaning and genuinely concerned about the welfare of his daughter and his community. It may sound unbelievable, but Joysticks is one movie where you'll be rooting for the bad guy rather than the good guys.

(Posted February 9, 2019)

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See also: Framed, Hot Resort, Skinheads