Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Language and Suggestive Comments
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by: Tim Herlihy & Timothy Dowling
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Matt Lintz, Brian Cox & Ashley Benson
PIXELS is based on a 2010 French short film. That goofy little short was entertaining and cool, even if little time was put into an actual story. It was a quick excuse to watch pixelated video game characters wreak havoc on the real world. A full-length feature with this premise might be fun in the right hands, but that potential drops a bit when Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison (a company that doesn’t exactly have a reputation for making good movies) produces said film. PIXELS is a movie fighting with itself over becoming one of two things. One of these possibilities is a goofy nostalgia-filled adventure and the other is your typical low-bar Adam Sandler comedy. Guess which one wins.
In 1982, NASA launched a time capsule (with footage of TV shows, commercials, presidential speeches, and video games) in hope of making contact with extraterrestrial life. Aliens misinterpreted our message as a declaration of war and have sent real-life versions of video games to our planet for a dangerous “competition.” The loser of the competition gets their planet annihilated. Our only hope lies in Sam Brenner (a washed-up loser and 2nd place video game pro), Will Cooper (Brenner’s best friend and President of the United States), Ludlow (another video game champ and conspiracy theorist), and Eddie Plant (an ex-con and Brenner’s former video game rival). This small band of heroes must work together through real life “games” if they hope to save our planet from certain doom.
Now, that premise actually sounds like it could be fun. In fact, the script practically writes itself. I was one of the people who saw the trailer for PIXELS and got genuinely excited. For the record, the film is not a total failure (despite the verbal thrashing it’s receiving from most critics). There are a couple of enjoyable scenes. Not surprisingly, these come in parts of the movie with video game characters. A real life game of Centipede is enjoyable for what it is and a Pac-Man chase through the streets of New York stands out as the film’s biggest highlight. I’d be lying if I said that the effects in this movie didn’t look good either. There was clearly a big budget and it was used. However, everything between the video game scenes and a lackluster finale cause this film to fall flat on its face.
This is because PIXELS winds up being a Sandler comedy through and through. It might not be scraping the bottom of the barrel like JACK AND JILL or THAT’S MY BOY, but the film is significantly weighed down by unlikable characters and (very) cheap jokes. Aside from a few chuckles, I can’t recall any big laughs in this whole movie. Sandler doesn’t even seem to be trying in his washed-up loser role (that feels so much like his other washed-up loser roles) and Josh Gad mistakes shouting for being funny. Though that’s not entirely on his shoulders as the script doesn’t provide him with much material to begin with. Kevin James seems to be playing himself and just so happens to be the President of the United States. That could have made for some laughs, but feels like a missed opportunity. Sean Bean and Brian Cox show up for a quick paycheck, while Peter Dinklage delivers the only semi-decent performance of the cast as an overly obnoxious jerk.
At one point in the film, Sandler’s character is watching a preteen boy play a FALLOUT-style video game and points out that the game doesn’t have a pattern and simply chugs along with “no rhyme or reason.” That one comment can sum up the entire screenplay. There doesn’t really seem to be a reason for why things happen during parts of this story and the movie doesn’t seem to care. That wouldn’t necessarily be all bad if we were given cool-looking scenes to satiate our appetite for video game characters terrorizing the real world, but instead we’re handed a half-assed romantic subplot (because I guess this movie needed one of those) and a huge plot hole that’s simply taken as part of the story. The huge gap in movie logic is simply accepted as an excuse for a finale that feels too forced and jumbled.
There’s probably a good movie lying somewhere inside of PIXELS. However, the cool premise loses out to becoming just another lame Adam Sandler comedy. You can feel potential radiating off the screen and not much of it was used. Why is Q*Bert a prominent side character featured for a few quick and easy jokes, but Mario is only seen once hopping around in the background? What about other gems like Dig Dug or Asteroids (which we see a character playing, but never comes to fruition)? The biggest question of all comes in why was so much time and money poured into what essentially amounts to yet another bad Adam Sandler comedy that has more spectacle than the rest of his filmography? If you want a great throwback to old-school video games, stick to WRECK-IT RALPH. If you want a good Sandler movie, stick to HAPPY GILMORE, ANGER MANAGEMENT or BIG DADDY. I simply can’t see PIXELS satisfying anyone. What a waste.