Pixels may have had potential. Beneath the ridiculous plot of aliens sending down real life video games to attack us, there is a notable director (Chris Columbus gave us the first two Home Alone movies and the first two Harry Potter movies) and an interesting short film on which it is based. Patrick Jean’s 2010 short (watch it here) is a cool and original piece of work, lasting only three minutes but giving us everything we need to see involving video games that take over the world.
The problem with Pixels (2015) is the Sandlerization of the script, and if you’re familiar with the story behind I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry and its script’s roots with Alexander Payne, you’ll know exactly what that means. Here is an interesting, albeit silly premise, which has been capitalized on once before (really, the short film is awesome), but has now been stretched into a feature length film that wastes its potential with, well, Adam Sandler.
Now, if you follow me on Twitter, you may know that I am a fan of Adam Sandler. He can act, and he can make good comedies if he wishes. Sandler’s early work proves that, with movies like Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, and even Big Daddy for that matter. He’s also no stranger to drama, with his roles in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, Mike Bender’s Reign Over Me, and Judd Apatow’s Funny People (it’s kind of a drama, right?) to anchor his dramatic credentials. Even this year’s indie feature The Cobbler, which was silly and oddly ambitious, gave us a nice dramatic performance from Sandler, and that’s why I liked it.
So then, why does Mr. Sandler keep reverting to these stupid comedies with pointless one liners and dumb scripts? The answer is money. Nothing but cold hard cash, and I can’t say I blame him. He’s so rich right now that he doesn’t care what he makes. He knows he’ll get paid. But whenever I watch movies like The Cobbler I think to myself, “Maybe he wants to break free from this stupid streak of unfunny comedies.” Then he makes a movie like Pixels.
Now don’t misinterpret this to be a rant, because it really isn’t. Pixels is okay fun, and I’m not going to deny that. I’m not going to hate on it because I didn’t hate it. That’s the truth. But not hating something isn’t the same as liking it.
It opens with the stars (Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad) as kids, as they spend their hard earned quarters on the arcade. They’re good. Really good. It’s only a matter of time before they end up at a national competition, where the government is planning to use their recorded playings in a message they are sending out to extraterrestrial life to show them examples of our culture. But that comes into play later. This opening sequence is terrible, and it’s among the worst openings to any movie this year, filled with senseless potty jokes and ridiculous performances from its child actors.
Once the atrociously acted sequence ends, we meet the characters in the modern setting, all grown up and living their own lives. Sam (Sandler) hasn’t done much with his life, using his love for arcade video games to be a home entertainment installation man. Ludlaw Lamonsoff (Gad) is living with his grandmother, with his room’s walls covered in newspaper clippings and conspiracy theories. And as for Will (James), he’s, well… he’s the president of the United States. Yeah. Just picture that.
The movie wastes no time getting us into the thick of it as real life video games descend from the skies and destroy buildings, kill people, and all kinds of cool nonsense. Of course, the government (led by the nerdy Will) decides that the only course of action is to play the games as they were designed. And it’s up to the gang to reunite and use their gaming skills to the world. It’s pretty stupid.
Not that the idea of real life video games coming down and leveling skyscrapers is stupid. That’s pretty rad, if you ask me, and we got to see that in the short film. In this film, the visual effects are polished and they look really nice. And for a while, it’s fun. Until the movie makes it clear that these aliens aren’t just using the games a means of attack.
They want us to play in return, which makes the entire idea of aliens taking the message the wrong way irrelevant. At one point, a character mentions that the aliens don’t know that the games are, in fact, games. But if that’s true, then why the hell did the aliens tell the humans that they must play to win, or else the world ends? It makes no sense. Of course the aliens knew the games were actually games, or else they wouldn’t have known to tell the humans to play to defend their planet.
The movie also has this shoehorned romance subplot in which Sam is installing a game system for a woman (Michelle Monaghan) and her son, and it feels remarkably forced and nonsensical. And there’s a recurring joke about her character being a stuck up snob and it becomes so old so fast. I hated it.
Sean Bean shows up halfway through as a British military officer and he is the best thing about the movie, cracking insults and trying maintain social order and peace whilst the giant video games are wrecking havoc. “If I say we’re shooting a bloody commercial, it’s a bloody commercial!” I love Sean Bean so much.
Peter Dinklage is another reason I had interest in the film, as I was curious to see how his mullet-clad Donkey Kong champ character translated to the screen. And he’s just okay. He has his moments, but this is Pixels, and I’m still trying to figure out just why he signed on to be in it. I still love him though. Tyrion Lannister will always have a place in my heart.
By the time this movie ends, Pac-Man’s demolishing of New York (taking a literal bite out of the Big Apple), the movie’s parodying of Ghostbusters, Chris Gad’s constant screaming and wishing for his video game princess warrior to come to life, and the endless training sessions for the nerdy nobodies becomes too dumb to believe in. And it gets turned up to eleventy-stupid when they realize they have to take the fight up to the mothership, District 9 style. It’s fun at times, but it sure is dumb.
1 hr. 46 mins.
Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments
Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Sean Bean
Written by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling
Directed by Chris Columbus