The 1980’s were a time when innovation in technology ruled the day. New and groundbreaking were keys to success when marketing a technological product. One of these innovations was the video game. The 80’s saw the rise of video gaming among the youth of the time. What was once done as a hobby in the backrooms of “tech” colleges became big business. Even those that don’t even call themselves video gamers know the iconic names of “Pac-Man”, ” Donkey Kong”, and “Q*bert”. 30+ plus years later Hollywood finally looks to classic games as fodder for a summer movie extravaganza. “Pixels” barrels toward the silver screen to breath a bit of “Arcader” life into the box office. The big question going into this movie was: does this film achieve a high score or does it languish at the bottom of the leaderboard?
“Pixels” was a concept that lived most of its life on the internet as a short film that found an audience in 2010 on YouTube. The imaginative gentleman behind the short, Patrick Jean, created an extremely cool “what if” scenario that saw classic video game characters come to life to wreak havoc upon the Earth. Now five years later, Sony pictures has taken that same concept and made a feature length film out of it with Adam Sandler as the lead.
Before we meet our heroes as adults we see them as young, vibrant kids who enjoy the arcade for it’s great music and abundance of the fairer sex who hallow the halls of that establishment. Brenner, the leader of the young troupe, also falls in love with video gaming. Brenner is very smart, he has the ability to pick up on patterns, is keen with memorization, and possesses good hand-eye coordination. These characteristics are the hallmark of making one a great video gamer. This leads Brenner and the boys all the way to the “Video Gaming Championships,” which is being recorded and sent to space for posterity to mark the unique occasion. Brenner brings his talents all the way to the finals where Brenner meets all-star opposition “Fireblaster Eddie.” This leads to a showdown with Brenner and Eddie in a rousing game of “Donkey Kong.” Brenner’s defeat in the final round pushes us forward in the timeline, 30 odd years later.
Sandler and his usual cohort, Kevin James, play longtime friends along with new castmates, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage who all share a love for the arcade games of old. Brenner (played by Adam Sandler) is older and a tech installer. His best friend, Cooper (played by Kevin James) is now the President of the United States. They still share a friendship and lunch on occasion, reminiscing about the “good times” of their youth. While coming from one of these lunches, a US military base is attacked by what seems to be characters from the video game “Galaga.” President Cooper calls on the assistance of Brenner, who knows these games better than anyone, while on an install job conveniently at the home of Violet (played by Michelle Monaghan) who happens to be a top military scientist working in President Cooper’s administration. Brenner calls upon the aid of another one of his old buddies, Ludlow (played by Josh Gad), who has deciphered the Alien code that assures the Earth’s destruction through it’s own creation of video games. “Fireball Eddie” (played by Peter Dinklage) is brought into the proceedings because of his past gaming prowess and the one man who could turn the tide of battle against the aliens. This ragtag group of ’80’s rejects are called upon by their government to serve as “Arcaders” to take down the pixelated threat before they destroy Earth and mankind.
“Pixels” is a film that you can enjoy at certain points and then be revolted by at others. The plot holes abound and the sophomoric comedy can start to degrade any goodwill you’ve built up, but the sequences that have the game characters and the cast share screen time are enjoyable, although they don’t feel novel or as fresh as they should. This is truly surprising considering the man behind the camera is no stranger to success on the big screen. Chris Columbus has given us hits such as “Home Alone” and “Harry Potter,” so it’s odd that this film misses the mark as bad as it does. He may not have had a great script to work with, but regardless, this feels less like a Chris Columbus movie and more like a film from the Sandler movie making machine.
The two glaring problems with “Pixels” is that the story is completely nonsensical. Films like this can make little sense, but still be enjoyable to watch. However, instead of you enjoying the movie you find yourself constantly thinking to yourself, “why did he do this?” or “they should’ve done that!” You shouldn’t be doing this in a movie about video game characters come to life attacking Earth. The other problem I found with this movie is the cast; forasmuch as I enjoy all of their work separately they flounder as a unit and so does the movie.
Sandler and James are the only bright spots in this dim-witted comedy and sadly that’s not saying much. Sandler plays the lovable loser which is a part that he plays well, but we’ve seen it in so many of his other films that the schtick is growing a bit stale. James, on the other hand, is actually good as Cooper. He’s not in the bumbling idiot role as he is in “Paul Blart” and he gives the audience a somewhat believable President. The cast outside of these two feel as if they are on the outside looking in. Sandler and Monaghan have little chemistry as love interests and not even the talents of Josh Gad or Peter Dinklage feel like they belong in this movie. The two actors try their best to play along with their on-screen co-stars, but unfortunately they feel out of place. The cast try to convey camaraderie, but fall short.
“Pixels” doesn’t know the audience it’s trying to appeal to, are they trying to appeal to the youngsters of today, or their parents in the “Gen-X” crowd who played in the arcades of the ’80’s? This leads to serving too many masters and the film becomes a mash-up of kid friendly fun and adult friendly humor. You do feel the rush of excitement as “Pac-Man” tries to chase down our heroes on the streets of New York for one minute but then you find yourself hoping your kid doesn’t pick up on the inappropriate joke of “slut-seeking” missiles the next. This all adds up to “Pixels” just wearing out any welcome it had with the audience. “Pixels” is a TV movie masquerading as a summer blockbuster. Perhaps “Pixels” should’ve stayed a short film and we could’ve imagined all the possibilities on what could have been and not what it has become.