Jensen Farley Pictures, Inc. 1983 (IMDB entry)
Reviewed by Nathan Strum
Jeff Bailey (Scott McGuinnis) runs the local video arcade, with the help of his buddies - resident slob Jonathan "Dorfus" McDorfus (Jim Greenleaf) and local nerd Eugene Groebe (Leif Green). When local businessman Joseph Rutter (Joe Don Baker) finds out his daughter Patsy (Corinne Bohrer) has been staying out late at the arcade, he's infuriated and threatens to shut it down. Things only get worse when local video game punk King Vidiot (Jon Gries) shows up, and starts causing trouble. Will Rutter be able to convince the City Council that the video arcade is a haven for troublemakers that should be shut down? Or will the kids of the community band together to save their beloved arcade?
When the fate of the arcade comes down to a video game battle between video game champion Dorfus and King Vidiot, Dorfus is nowhere to be found, and it's up to Jeff to save the day. But Jeff is afraid of playing the very games in his own arcade. Can Jeff overcome his video game phobia and win? Or will Rutter get to shut down the arcade - forever?
Well, in a few months it wouldn't have mattered much anyway. The video game crash of '83 would have taken care of that and they'd all be out looking for jobs. And actually, if we'd been real lucky, the crash would have happened early enough so this film would never have been made. Although that's not the impression you might get if you read the box, trust me - it would have been better that way.
Joy Sticks is the height of everything that can go wrong in Hollywood. Somebody thought they could cash in on the whole post- Porky's teen sex-comedy craze and the video game boom at the same time, by combining the two into a movie. Too bad nobody bothered to try and make it a good one.
This movie is terrible. Even the nostalgia factor of seeing arcade games in their prime offers absolutely no redemption for this mess. For a teen sex-comedy, there are few actual teens, very little sex (and what's there is so completely unappealing you might as well be watching hedgehogs procreating on the Discovery channel), and absolutely zero comedy.
As far as the story goes, the basic idea of doing a teen movie centered around a video arcade that's threatened with being shut down could have made for a decent movie. It didn't, but the potential was there. The elements are all in place - the good guy buddies (the stud, the slob and the nerd), the arcade babes that are in league with the good guys, the villainous businessman trying to close the arcade, his two idiot nephew henchmen, and the rival gang of punks with their psychotic leader who are unwitting pawns used by the businessman. It all sounds like a typical, but usable, formula for a movie.
In Joy Sticks though, it fails miserably. The writing is insipid. The story, such as it is, is so bad you'll find your mind wandering elsewhere. It's an effort just to try and pay attention to the screen. The dialog is dull and stupid, and the jokes - the few that are attempted - fall completely flat. This movie almost seems to go out of its way to insult your intelligence and make you squirm in your seat uncomfortably while watching it.
Nearly all of characters are instantly forgettable. Jeff Bailey is a vapid, cardboard pretty-boy. Dorfus is a disgusting slob - but not in a John Belushi "funny" sort-of way. He's absolutely revolting and you can practically smell the reeking stench seeping out of his pores. Eugene Groebe is the inept nerd, but is played so badly and blandly that there's absolutely no appeal to him. Joseph Rutter is just basically Joe Don Baker acting the way he's done in every film he's ever been in. The two idiot nephews (John Diehl, John Volstad) offer no comedy relief, and the actors embarrass themselves in the attempt. The resident sorority bimbos (Kym Malin, Kim G. Michel) don't look like they've been college-age in ten years, and Rutter's daughter Patsy is a poor imitation of a bad caricature of a stereotypical, ditzy valley girl. Punk leader King Vidiot manages to feign some enthusiasm for his role, but his gang is so inconsequential he's never even a comical threat. Even Mayor Neville (legendary character actor Logan Ramsey) can't bring a spark of life to this disaster, although his brief stint battling a Gorf machine is about as watchable as anything in this movie gets.
If any of the people associated with this film still had careers after appearing in this disaster, it would certainly be a giant black blotch on their resumes. The only recognizable name in the bunch is Joe Don Baker, who isn't exactly Oscar caliber material on his best day. The only other principal actors I ever managed to see in mainstream films were Scott McGuinnis - who got locked in a closet in Star Trek III, and Leif Green - who played a gang member (try and figure that one out) in Grease 2, which runs on VH-1 all-too often.
There are a few fleeting hints at what much better people could have brought to an idea like Joy Sticks. "Video madness" (the alternate title for the movie) is mentioned a few times, as are other perceived side-effects of playing too many video games, but nothing is ever really done with it. The name of the town where it takes place is River City (after The Music Man), which is mentioned a few times, but little advantage is taken of it. The Arena, where the video game competitions are held, is a nice piece of set design, and lends itself well to the idea of a video game battle (although the giant joysticks are ridiculous), but the battles never capture any sort of competitive spirit. Perhaps if they'd chosen games with head-to-head play, it would have helped. Instead, the competitors are rarely even playing at the same time. There's actually some irony in the video game battles - the tough-guy King Vidiot is afraid to play Satan's Hollow, yet his favorite game is the arguably wussy Super Pac-Man. Whether that was intentional or not is highly dubious, since it's certainly not used for any sort of comedic pay-off.
The only spark of life to be found in the movie happens in the scene where the City Council is deciding the fate of the arcade, and each side presents their case in a couple of fantasy sequences. Rutter's view of the arcade is that it's a literal house of ill repute - where women mud wrestle, writhe around in kinky outfits, and are treated as sex objects for the amusement of the owners. Bailey's view is that it's a place of learning and enlightenment - where people are schooled in computer science, drink wholesome milk, and discuss philosophy. If only the rest of the movie had been written up to the level of these two scenes, it might have been pretty good - maybe even funny.
The music in this film runs from merely bad, to absolutely awful. Considering how many songs were written for the film you would think at least one would have some merit. But no, we're left with lyrics like "Video, video, video, vidiots!" and, of course, the theme from Joy Sticks. I suppose that it's par for the course in this film - the producers didn't want to pay any more money than they absolutely had to.
There are video games a-plenty in this movie. It takes place in a pretty well stocked arcade, circa 1982. Given that most of the games featured prominently in the film (Pac-Man, Satan's Hollow, Super Pac-Man, Gorf) are Bally/Midway games, you'd almost wonder if the producers had arranged some sort of deal with them. However, there's no mention of Bally/Midway in the credits, and if some sort of deal had been in the works, one look at the finished film certainly would have killed it. The only company credited for any video game is Computer Kinetics Corporation, which is credited with the "Stripper Video Game" (actually a clone of Streaking).
For some reason, the opening credits were shot at a completely different arcade than the set built for the movie. It appears to be an actual arcade set up in a storefront somewhere, with a buxom blonde playing Solar Fox (another Bally/Midway game). However - neither that arcade, nor the blonde, ever appear in the film. Also strange is the fact that the arcade is entirely empty of people except for her. I guess they couldn't get anyone interested in being in this movie, even while arcades were still immensely popular.
Joy Sticks may very well be the one of the worst movies ever made. It's completely devoid of any humor, interesting characters, or even "so bad it's good" camp value. It's just plain bad.
The only redeeming thing about this film is the high unlikelihood that you'll ever have to be subjected to it. It used to run on USA back when they were desperate for anything to fill up hours of late-night programming (where I first saw it), but that was many years ago. Most video stores won't have a copy of it, except the small mom and pop stores that have been around 20 years and never got around to throwing it away. That's where I found the copy for this review. And DVD? Forget it. Not gonna happen. Not even if every lousy film in the history of the planet made it to DVD, and they were still desperate for more.
Related arcade games in MacMAME