Jefferson Bailey (Scott McGinnis) is the general manager of a very popular arcade that serves as the main hangout for local teenagers. When one of his customer’s angry father, Joseph Rutter (Joe Don Baker), tries to shut down the establishment because he believes it’s corrupting his daughter, Jefferson rallies everyone together to fight for their right to play video games.
Joysticks neither acts as an exploration of the arcade/video game culture, nor presents any poignant commentary in its defense, and instead of thoroughly diving into the band of misfits that makes up the establishment, the movie wastes time on pointless and mostly hollow gags filled with a truly excessive amount of fart jokes.
The conflict is continuously grounded in shaky pretenses and meaningless stakes. Situations happen for no reason and our antagonist is entirely non-threatening. Despite somewhat of an effort, you never quite feel like the arcade is ever at any risk of actually being shut down. Not only because the villain basically has no grounds to do so, but because the characters never seem legitimately concerned. The teenagers are constantly one step ahead of Rutter and the viewer knows it the whole time. In fact, director Greydon Clark goes the extra mile to make jokes about how his characters aren’t worried as they treat these threats with flippancy.
When the story isn’t asinine, it tries haphazardly to give us depth, resulting in a laughably uneven script that’s overly dramatic and self-aggrandized. That is, when we can actually hear lines of dialogue over a soundtrack cluttered with on-the-nose songs featuring a lead singer who just yells about arcades and video games the entire time.
Despite the juvenile silliness, I found myself laughing way more than I probably should have at jokes that were only supposed to be funny in theory. The film is a weird and rare blend of “so bad it’s good” and actual entertainment, jumping back and forth between both without ever seeming to realize that there’s a difference.
Perhaps it’s the nostalgic arcade setting or the only-in-the-’80s ridiculousness, but somehow the charms of this film make me wish there were more acadesploitation movies and a sub-genre could have actually taken off. That Joysticks is virtually the sole member of that club only adds to its enigma. This isn’t just the best we’re gonna get, but the only thing we’re gonna get. As a bonus, we get to see a very early role for character-actor Jon Gries as the notorious arcade rascal King Vidiot.
Joysticks isn’t good by any means and I’d like to say there’s a method to the madness, but that never seems to be the case. Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter how bad it is because it’s appealing enough to deserve a re-watch now and again.
Double Feature With:
Private Resort (1985)
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