Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards) has run away again. He is a little boy who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder since his sister's death that has left him withdrawn and unwilling to talk, but with an unexplained yen to visit California which is hundreds of miles away from his smalltown desert home, hence his habit of wandering off in search of that particular state. He is picked up by the Sheriff and brought back to the children's home he has been staying in, but now his divorced parents Sam (Beau Bridges) and Christine (Wendy Phillips) are at loggerheads over what to do about the child, with Christine's husband (Sam McMurray) especially bullish. Jimmy's older brothers Corey (Fred Savage) and Nick (Christian Slater) are worried...
The craze, if you can call it that, for adapting computer games into movies really took off in the nineteen-nineties, but if The Wizard had been a bigger hit, it might have informed the genre further than merely casting stars as the video game characters and hoping for the best. Nintendo was the company benefiting from massive amounts of product placement, leaving this nothing more than one hour and forty minutes of hard sell to kids, or more likely their parents who held the purse strings, with a moral of an improving sort tacked on at the end in an unconvincing attempt to make it appear as if it was a proper movie that was good for the younglings: basically the Mac and Me of gaming.
However, there's a reason folks get nostalgic for old TV ads, and it's the same reason they get nostalgic for cynical marketing moves like this, because it takes them back to what seemed like a more certain time, where you would see the commercial and take it in in a manner far less unimpressed than you might regard whatever was currently interrupting television shows, or let's face it, the sites you now visited on the internet. Besides, if those old ads were selling something you really wanted all those years ago, those feelings of desire for the product were going to be rekindled by seeing the ad again some distance after the fact, or after the product was no longer around.
Nintendo continued decades after The Wizard, of course, leaving its big push for Super Mario 3 in this movie behind, but the potency of nostalgia for essentially ephemera left a cult following for the picture that went beyond any misgivings about being manipulated to increase a huge corporation's profits by being targeted when you were at your most impressionable. Fred Savage was popular for TV series The Wonder Years, ironically perhaps a show that traded on nostalgia for an older generation, so was landed in this apparently against his wishes, possibly because his character did not get to actually play the games when that was the job of his screen brother Jimmy, leaving him at best an enabler when a big gaming contest arises, and at worst irrelevant to the outcome, no matter that future indie rock queen Jenny Lewis was playing Haley, his new pal.
And possibly romantic interest, too. Corey and Jimmy meet her when they take off on the road for California, and when they combine forces they find they can make gambling money on the way by getting Jimmy to win playing the Nintendo consoles in diners and arcades against unwitting participants with cash to spare. One of those is Lucas (Jackey Vinson, whose life took a most unsavoury turn), who seems like the kids' nemesis, supposedly because he can expertly use the in real life useless Nintendo Powerglove and will show up again at the climactic tournament for the predictable showdown. As if that were not enough, the boys' entire family are now on their trail, and Christine has hired a scuzzy private investigator (Will Seltzer, the Luke Skywalker who almost was) who for some reason was named Putnam, possibly because David Putnam was making a terrible reputation for himself as a studio boss in Hollywood at this point. Anyway, none of that was really important, as neither was the message about family and friends and all that shit, because what The Wizard wanted you to do was ask your parents to buy more Nintendo. If you had rose-tinted memories of that, you would be well-disposed towards this. Music by J. Peter Robinson.