Picks and Pans Review: The Wizard

updated 01/15/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/15/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Fred Savage, Jenny Lewis, Luke Edwards

Attention, kids: This is not an instructional movie. The big video game competition in Los Angeles is fictitious, bikers will not be real nice to you if they pick you up on the highway, and if you go out hitchhiking, the odds are you won't meet anyone near as cute as Fred or Jenny.

If you can pry yourself away from those power-ups, turbo controllers and 10,000-point bonuses, though, here's a neat film for you. It's about power-ups, turbo controllers and 10,000-point bonuses—and it's even tolerable for grown-ups.

Savage, the star of TV's The Wonder Years, seems so sensible and articulate that at 13 he looks a bit like a compressed adult. He plays a Utah boy whose younger half-brother, I Know My First Name Is Steven star Luke Edwards, has been so traumatized by his twin sister's drowning death that he is all but autistic.

In the course of running away from home, Edwards uncovers a new talent for playing arcade games, and the two boys hook up with another runaway, Jenny Lewis, 14, a gamine type who played Shelley Long's daughter in Troop Beverly Hills. As they head for the big tournament in L.A., they are pursued by Beau Bridges, as the boys' father, and Will Seltzer, as a child-finder hired by Edwards's mother.

Director Todd Holland, a recent UCLA Film and Television School grad, and TV writer David Chisholm seem to have run out of brilliant ideas after "video game craze" and "movie" occurred to them in the same sentence. Other than a buffoonish running skirmish between Bridges and Seltzer, very little happens until the kids get to Los Angeles.

Video game scholars may question Edwards's ability to become such a whiz practically overnight—even some adults (who shall go unidentified, thank you) have a rough time getting past the "start-continue" board in most cases. But the three little stars get a lot of mileage out of just hanging out, and Edwards, despite having very few lines, is most ingratiating. The ending, out of the Karate Kid/Rocky school of cinematic sophistication, is satisfyingly overwrought. (PG)

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