The Chris Columbus directed Adam Sandler comedy Pixels shows audiences what would happen if aliens invaded using imagery from popular 80s video games.
Nostalgia is big right now. People are always keen to relive the glory of yesteryear and cast their mind back to a simpler time where your biggest troubles were being stuck on a video game or wondering how cartoon characters would resolve a cliffhanger ending. Pixels is yet another attempt to capitalise on Generation Y nostalgia to turn a tidy box office profit.
That in of itself is no bad thing. Plenty good has come of reminding audiences of these simple times and we’ve managed to get some good movies out of it as well as a lot of bad ones. This one falls firmly into the latter category in a big way.
When I first heard about Pixels my initial reaction was that the whole thing sounded dumb but an endearing sort of dumb. In the right hands the premise could be fun and entertaining in its execution. There’s plenty of potential to be mined in these old video games and the imagery is already striking. Everyone know what Pac Man is and what is involved in playing it. The simplicity of the whole thing is one of the greatest strengths here.
It all falls apart when you get Adam Sandler and the rest of the Happy Madison people involved to actually get the thing made. I haven’t actually watched an Adam Sandler comedy in many years because it got to a point where they were a complete chore to sit though for me. To my mind he’s among the least funny comedy actors working today and his films only seemed to get more offensively juvenile as time went on. By all accounts it’s gotten worse since I stopped watching them so I’m glad I did.
Why was Pixels an exception then? Well, the premise drew me in. I liked the idea of old video games destroying the world and needing to be stopped by following the rules of those games. Imagine my horror when I realised who was making this and who was in it. It could have been affectionate and whimsical about the inspiration like Wreck it Ralph or Scott Pilgrim but all it manages to do is gleefully insult anyone who happens to be into old fashioned video games.
My basic feeling is that I shouldn’t have bothered. Sandler is playing that same Billy Madison character he has been playing for two decades now and the jokes are still the same brand of lazy childish humour that was being peddled when I stopped watching these things. Not a single joke works here. I was surrounded by a deafening chorus of silence in the cinema as joke after joke fails to land.
Sandler plays Brenner, a guy who used to be good at video games but now installs TVs and other electronics for a living. He goes through life in a disinterested daze having resigned himself to his broadly “loser” status. He is given the chance to turn his life around when he is drafted to fight the aliens because of his video game expertise and becomes the hero of the piece, or one of them at least.
Naturally he has no real character arc. People think very little of him until he proves he can save the world so the film ultimately concludes that he was right all along. There are the beginnings of a meta gag about Sandler needing to get his act together which surely must link to his movie career but it never goes anywhere leading me to conclude that we’re in for more films with this awful brand of comedy.
Brenner’s loser status really doesn’t make sense considering his best friend Cooper (Kevin James) is the president of the United States. Any chance the premise had of working falls apart when you wonder what sort of a world would elect this guy. He’s constantly incompetent and the whole country seems to hate him so I can’t help but wonder what got him elected in the first place. Come to think of it, being the president is about the only thing I can associate with his character. He’s so bland in every other way that there’s no personality traits I can attribute to him.
Josh Gad plays a socially awkward conspiracy nut named Ludlow. The main joke about him is that he’s horrendously inappropriate all of the time but people put up with it because he happens to be right about one specific thing. I don’t mind Josh Gad at all. His vocal performance in Frozen was a delight and I’ve seen him be funny in other things but the material given to him here is so incredibly cringeworthy that there’s nothing to be salvaged from it. His awkward routine drags on and on through several painful scenes leaving the character a collection of socially awkward stereotypes that are best avoided.
Peter Dinklage takes on the role of a former video game champion named Eddie -he gives himself the nickname of Fireblaster- who is sprung from prison to help deal with the threat. Just like everyone else in the film he’s an infuriating manchild who never grew out of his childlike attitude so struts around making offensive remarks and generally mugging for the camera. To his credit Dinklage completely throws himself into the role and has to be commended for doing so. His character is an unwatchable nuisance but not to the fault of Dinklage.
Michelle Monaghan’s Violet is the default love interest and there’s absolutely nothing else to her. She exists as a trophy for Sandler’s Brenner to get when he gets the high score. Their interactions are childlishly immature and she never acts like any normal human being would. She’s supposed to be some kind of brilliant military scientist but that’s about as unbelievable as Kevin James being the president due to the awful material on display here.
In smaller roles are actors like Sean Bean and Brian Cox. I’m pretty convinced that Adam Sandler must know some horrifying secret about these guys that he threatened to release if they say no to this film. The material is so far beneath them it’s unreal and I actually have to applaud them for at least pretending to care about it. There’s nothing phoned in about their performance which is more than I can say for most of the others. There are some celebrity cameos in here as well such as Serena Williams who has a line of dialogue about being promised an island if she hangs around with Eddie. I have to wonder if she was also promised an island for doing this film.
I will say this for the film, the set pieces are at times a lot of fun. There’s a certain entertainment factor to watching a giant Pac Man tearing through the streets of Manhattan and having the area turn into a life size Pac Man level. Seeing Donkey Kong and Centipede adapted in a similar way is also really cool. A giant free for all involving all sorts of video game characters tearing through Washington D.C. is similarly entertaining. The closest comparison would be the insanity of a similar sequence in Cabin in the Woods. Even the 3D is worth noting with some impressive effects coming at you. It all goes downhill when someone opens their mouth but it’s undeniable that there are some solid sequences in there. It might be best to watch a supercut of all of these together rather than actually try to sit through this.
What I’m basically trying to say here is that I don’t recommend this at all. Some creative sequences aside this film is borderline unwatchable with the standard brand of Adam Sandler nonsense that many people are long since sick of. It’s a shame when a potential good thing gets ruined like this.
An absolute chore to sit through with almost no redeeming features to speak of beyond some admittedly well executed set pieces and a premise that had potential to be interesting.
The fault would seem to lie with Adam Sandler and the rest of the Happy Madison crew who take this project and ruin any possible entertainment value it might have had. Sandler pretty much sleepwalks his way through the same juvenile jokes and interactions that he has been peddling for the past two decades. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch.
Every single one of the characters is completely insufferable with some good actors reduced to delivering really terrible dialogue. Actors like Peter Dinklage and Brian Cox definitely deserve better than this but to their credit they throw everything they’ve got into it. It really is commendable as the material definitely doesn’t deserve it.
Some of the video game set pieces are pretty well executed such as a live size game of Donkey Kong or Manhattan turning into a level of Pac Man. It’d be better to watch a supercut of these rather than sitting through the entire thing.
Definitely skip this one. It’s a waste of a potentially entertaining premise. Outside of some cool set pieces there’s no fun here at all. The characters are awful, not a single joke works and it is a complete chore to sit through.