Back in the eighties there were all manner of cash in movies, but none as flagrantly blatant as 1983’s Joysticks where the producers were clearly aware of how many people loved arcade games and that with it’s puerile adult humour the film Porkies had been a massive hit, and so thought fuck it, let’s combine the two and surely we’ll be billionaires before we know it. And while it might not have made that kind of money it did generate nearly four million dollars at the box office against a $300,000 budget, so could be seen as a small success.
With three credited writers, two of whom never went on to write for a movie ever again and the third only managed one further work, the awful Rodney Dangerfield comedy Ladybugs, artistically it has very little to offer (as you may have guessed), though it is a vaguely enjoyable movie if you ignore some of the sightly dodgier jokes that are found within the running time. Unfortunately it does start off poorly with our lead Eugene (Leif Green) about to start a new job but two women start flirting with him and expose their breasts, though it’s all a trick so that they can get a photo of the poor bloke in his underwear. It’s never really explained why either, but then anyone looking for logic in this film has not only come to the wrong place but the wrong planet, and possibly universe as well.
The arcade is managed by a Jock type called Jeff (Scott McGinnis) who we’re supposed to like even though he’s a bit of a dick, and it’s populated by a bizarre bunch including a group of punks led by a guy who calls himself King Vidiot (Jon Gries), an overweight slob by the name of Dorfus (Jim Greenleaf) who used to be cool until he became addicted to video games, a bizarrely posh girl, a monk, and a guy who barks like a dog, all of whom play games as if they’ve never seen one before, dancing around and at the same time staring at the screen from only a couple of centimetres away. Bar King Vidiot and Dorfus the supporting cast rarely get much to do but they made me laugh a lot just because of their overly enthusiastic attempts at game playing.
At first it seems more like a collection of sketches than a film with a proper narrative, with Eugene spying on a couple making out in a hot tub inside a van just so he can fall in to the water and everyone once again laughs at him, while Jeff has a game in the office where women have to strip if they lose, but after a bit Joseph Rudder (Joe Don Baker, who I can only hope fired his agent straight after this movie) arrives on the scene and wants to close the arcade down as he’s a real stick in the mud. He’s got two nephews, Max and Arnie, to do his dirty work and they try and fail to steal all of the machines, but then he attempts to persuade the Mayor at a town meeting that the arcade should be closed down, talking about “Video madness” in a way akin to “Reefer Madness” and getting a nurse on stage to talk about “Pacman arthritis” and other conditions games can cause. But once again Rudder is foiled by Jeff and co, so after a bit of stupid plotting Rudder challenges the arcade to a duel against King Vidiot, and if they lose they’ll close down forever.
I’m fully aware that the above description makes it sound like one of the worst films ever made, but it is surprisingly funny in places. Joe Don Baker makes for a decent villain, whose description of the arcade leads to an amusing fantasy sequence which involves mud wrestling and all manner of daft debauchery, and there’s also another funny fantasy sequence where Jeff portrays the place as filled by women wearing long virginal white dresses as he cradles a baby and offers to help girls in to college. Eugene has the odd funny moment and twice says the line “I would like you to meet Simba” just as he’s about to reveal his penis (though thankfully he doesn’t) while King Vidiot is so over the top and silly that he’s actually strangely hilarious, sometimes wandering around as if he’s Pacman and “his subjects” are ghosts, and at one point they ride on tiny motorbikes for reasons I still don’t understand.
Trying to make video game duels exciting is always doomed to failure as many a movie has proven, but it’s laugh out loud stuff here as a game of Pacman is supposed to seem thrilling, and the film also includes a number of songs especially written for the film on the soundtrack, with one repeating the line “Totally awesome video games” over and over again in such a manner I couldn’t help but chuckle. Along with all of the above there’s a fun training montage which lasts way too long and a happy ending so contrived it’s ridiculous, with every character getting either their just desserts or a joyous bit of closure, and it’s so cheesy it’s impossible not to like.
Unfortunately there is a negative side to the film, as there’s one horribly dodgy scene with Joe Don Baker’s fast asleep wife and Eugene and Dorfus where the latter suggests the former rape her, it’s a painfully misjudged element and even though Eugene is appalled it’s something I wish had been cut from the movie. Also an issue is that some of the more exploitative nudity is truly shitty as the camera lingers on various body parts for way too long, and it’s a real shame the filmmakers decided to make it so sleazy. I’m sure with about five minutes of edits a family friendly version of the film could be made (well, maybe ten thinking about it) and then it’d be something I could happily recommend. In the meantime if you watch it with one hand on the remote control and fast forward through the couple of crappy moments there’s still a lot to enjoy here, and if you like trashy, tacky stupid movies you’ll probably not regret watching it.