Vintage video games come to the forefront in Pixels,a feature length movie starring Adam Sandler based on a quirky little short film by Patrick Jean. The fact that the short film is a lot cooler than this full-length feature reveals that 1) perhaps the concept works better in a small dose and 2) getting Adam Sandler involved was, as it usually is, a really bad idea.
Sandler, in mopey dog wiseass mode, plays Brenner, installer of home video equipment and best friend to Cooper (Kevin James), the president of the United States. Brenner is a former video game whiz kid who lost a world championship to Eddie (Peter Dinklage) when he failed to come through during a round of Donkey Kong. That loss sent him on some sort of damaged ego spiral that ruined his life, while fellow gamer Cooper went on to be the leader of the free world.
While Brenner is out making the rounds and trying to score with Violet (Michelle Monaghan), a customer going through marital turmoil, Guam is attacked by the 1980s video game Galaga.
It turns out that aliens have retrieved a videotape of old games shot into space in the early ’80s and interpreted it as a declaration of war on their planet. So they are sending old timey video games to wipe us out, and using dubbed footage of ’80s icons like Daryl Hall, Ronald Reagan and Madonna as messengers.
It’s all fairly interesting at first, but this is an Adam Sandler project, after all, so he and his cohorts are likely to wear out their welcome after the first half. Not only do they wear out their welcome, the film goes from mildly entertaining to total Stinksville as it wears on.
The premise and the build-up are promising, but the Sandler shtick and some tepid, shallow writing do everything in. As for the special effects, we’re talking about Pac-Man, Centipede and Donkey Kong here, so massive, awe-inspiring special effects are not in order. If you should choose to spring for the 3-D version, you will find yourself wholly disappointed and a couple of more bucks poorer.
Surprisingly, even though Sandler is nothing to get excited about here, the worst performer in Pixels happens to be the normally reliable Dinklage. He mugs so much in this movie, you could drink a cup of coffee out of his head. Also making an ass of himself is Josh Gad as Ludlow, the strange conspiracy theorist friend who is basically around because he’s overweight and kooky.
The film is directed by Chris Columbus, who directed the first, shitty Harry Potter movie—and the much better second one—along with the awful Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone. Even though he’s responsible for some lousy movies, including this one, he did debut with Adventures in Babysitting, and that movie rules. So I can’t totally hate the guy. I can only partially hate him.
The once mighty Sandler has hit so many cinematic potholes these last few years that his suspension is totally shot, and his tires are trashed. His future slate involves a deal with Netflix to produce and star in films, including the upcoming, already controversial Western spoof, The Ridiculous 6. It appears Hollywood is losing faith in him, which makes total sense.
It’s sad to see the likes of Monaghan, so good in films like Source Code and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, hitting a point in her career where she has to play a Sandler love interest. In fact, it’s utterly heartbreaking. It’s perhaps the film’s greatest feat that Monaghan makes her character’s leanings toward Sandler semi-convincing. That’s some heavy-duty acting, for sure.
If you are looking for some summer movie fun, go see Ant-Man, Trainwreck or Inside Out. Pixels is a total letdown, as disappointing as losing a handful of quarters in a faulty Asteroids machine while ingesting crap pizza at Chuck E Cheese’s.