Thursday, 15 April 2021

Joysticks (Greydon Clark, 1983) Review

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“We are here to extinguish the filth and the decadence that is commonly referred to as videogame entertainment.” It's 1983. You're a filmmaker and wondering what's popular with the youth right now. Well, on the one hand you've got raunchy comedies like Porky's that have been doing boffo box office on small budgets, and on the other hand you've got the unbridled popularity of videogame arcades which has seen eager gamers queuing up en masse to blast invaders from space. So, what better thing to do that mash those two hands together and come up with Joysticks?!

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“Kids play with their joysticks day in and day out, jerking back and forth, sweating on them, and they don't even clean them off when they're through!” The Bailey Videogame Arcade is the hip place to be in the suburban nowheresville of River City, a valley town with little else going for it. The kids love these newfangled 'video games', hell, even the gorgeous girls are always begging arcade manager Jeff (Scott McGinnis) for free tokens, pawing at him with their wide eyes and tight outfits. Move over rock stardom, there's a new aphrodisiac in town! Surely, it's all good fun – right? Not if you ask the town's stick-in-the-mud Joseph Rutter (Joe Don Baker, GoldenEye), the miserable middle aged father to valley girl Patsy (Corinne Bohrer, Police Academy 4), who's forever sneaking off to join the fun at the arcade. Clearly, behind those doors and amidst the bleeps, bloops, and jazzy graphics, a den of iniquity does lie!

“Watch it, crispos!” Like the sour-faced Dean Wormer from Animal House, Rutter is hell-bent on shutting down the fun of these unruly kids, although precisely what his beef is remains a mystery throughout. He's just not a fan of rounds of 'strip videogame' with sorority girls, it seems. Sorority girls, you say? Indeed! We find Lola (Kym Malin, Picasso Trigger) and Alva (Kim G. Michel) on the prowl for a total nerd, whom they need to charm out of his pants in order to snap a picture with their giant portable camera to satisfy the terms of their sorority's dare.

They stumble across Eugene (Leif Green, Grease 2) who's on his way to start a new job at the local arcade. Being that he's a hopeless virgin, bedecked in a sweater vest (chick magnet!), they succeed in their goal and split, leaving poor old Eugene to sneak into work with no trousers. However, despite the rough start and with Jeff coming off as a bit of a jock douchebag, Eugene quickly becomes one of the group – one which also includes the former class-president-turned-bloated-slob McDorfus (Jim Greenleaf), and punk freak/gaming addict King Vidiot (Jon Gries, Napoleon Dynamite).

“I am half the leader you think I am!” With King Vidiot's gaggle of gaming groupies – the lot of them adorned in studded leather and dyed shocks of hair – at odds with Jeff, Eugene, McDorfus et al, Rutter winds up using these social rejects to stir the pot. Not only them, but also his dimwitted nephews Max (John Voldstad, Stripes) and Arnie (John Diehl, Jurassic Park 3), whose every plan inevitably fails. Such is Rutter's pathological need to shut down Bailey's Arcade he even takes it all the way to the heights of the political establishment – a local council meeting! Will the Mayor believe the stories of mud wrestling orgies and 'Pac-Man arthritis', or will the button mashers reign supreme?

“We both like to hang out in public bathrooms.” As with any popular fad in film, especially in the world of low budget exploitation flicks, you're going to get a wide variety of product with an even broader sense of quality. While Joysticks rarely manages to soar, the overall film is a much more rounded affair than, say, Hot Dog … The Movie!, which suffered from a script that leaves all-but-one plot line utterly unresolved. At least with Greydon Clark's Joysticks, written by Al Gomez, Mickey Epps, and Curtis Burch, the audience is generally well served.

It's not all smooth sailing – Jeff's very late-in-the-day back-story proves to be rushed and weak motivation for the final confrontation – but the pacing remains solid, helped by a cast of memorably cartoonish characters: cheerful valley girl Patsy, outrageously daft King Vidiot, and McDorfus (with his patented 'McDorfus Manoeuvre') chief among them. Even smaller supporting roles and bit-parts get moments to shine, as the goofy gags are slung about with gleeful abandon. From Eugene's embarrassing moment with a slippery hot dog weiner that flies into some nearby cleavage, to his farcical encounter with Rutter's nymphomaniac wife (who attacks the flustered nerd in a fit of sleepwalking lust), Joysticks manages to have plenty of fun with its puerile pursuits.

“The man's a driven asshole.” With numerous doses of T&A spread throughout the running time, the film does enough to qualify as a proper 'raunch-com', skewing more towards Animal House than Porky's, the infamous John Landis comedy was evidently great inspiration to the filmmakers. However, it's clear that this fun 1980s comedy is looking at youth culture from an outsider's perspective with its bizarre characters (the Vidiot gang are particularly askew), cheesy intro song (“totally awesome videogames!”), and chomping Pac-Man scene transitions attempting to be 'down with the kids' – but still, it's all rather good fun. It may not be a classic of the American '80s teen sex comedy' genre like Fast Times At Ridgemont High or even Revenge Of The Nerds, but Joysticks is an undeniably fun watch thanks to its buoyant style and energetic performances.

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