PLOT: After an alien race misinterprets a NASA space capsule containing video feeds of classic circa-1982 arcade games as a declaration of war, a former gamer (Adam Sandler) and his arcade-obsessed friends are all that stand between the earth and total destruction.
REVIEW: It cant be denied, PIXELS is the best movie Adam Sandlers done in a long time. Sadly, after a good decade of terrible movies (with the odd FUNNY PEOPLE or REIGN OVER ME thrown in), that sets the bar mighty low. Although it comes perilously close to being halfway decent at times, PIXELS is far from a good movie. That sad thing and I never thought Id say this about a Happy Madison production again is that it could have been.
PIXELS is based on an intriguing short by filmmaker Patrick Jean, that reimagined classic 8-bit arcade characters like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong as towering GODZILLA-like beasts. While its a goofy premise, its still probably no harder to swallow than half the studio tent-pole movies out there and with a sharp script and a game cast this could have been a fun family fantasy and the start of a lucrative franchise. Instead, Adam Sandler and the Happy Madison crew got a hold of the short and turned it into what might be considered their last stab at big-screen respectability which might have worked had they not put their own sophomoric spin on the material.
Anytime PIXELS manages to be halfway decent, a pratfall from Kevin James whos cast as the U.S president or a lame one-liner from Sandler reminds you exactly of the kind of movie youre watching. It doesnt matter than the CGI used to create the 8-bit monsters is creative (and surprisingly well-served by 3D) or that Chris Columbus direction is often energetic. The good bits of PIXELS (and there are good bits) are no match for Sandler and company, who one could argue is giving their audience what they expect were it not for the fact that this audience is actually showing signs of (God forbid) growing up.
Sandlers become an increasingly listless performer in his movies over the last few years. He no longer tries to be at least creatively dumb. He just sleepwalks through his films playing a kind of laid-back straight-man character, throwing off the occasional one-liner he might have stolen from Mad Magazine back when he was in Grade 5. Kevin James isnt any better. James is almost tragically unfunny in movies like this and PAUL BLART: MALL COP 2, in that he seems desperate for laughs, taking unfunny pratfalls while making jokes about his girth. The fact that hes playing the president doesnt make him any funnier as hes basically just playing Paul Blart in the White House, with no real innovations to his usual shtick.
Josh Gad, as Sandler and James childhood video game/conspiracy theory-obsessed pal doesnt fare any better. He basically plays the Nick Swardson part (whos reduced to a quick cameo) equating funny with loud, while making constant homo-erotic double-entendres that give Sandler a chance to work in a bit of casual homophobia. Yuk-yuk.
Whats so aggravating is that again there are elements that work. Michelle Monaghan is actually quite charming as Sandlers requisite gorgeous love interest, an army officer tasked with helping Sandler and his pals take on the aliens. Brian Cox and Sean Bean are also very amusing sending-up their own usual tough guy personas, with Cox especially milking every laugh he can out of the stale script. And then theres Peter Dinklage. Playing a former video game champ modeled on THE KING OF KONGs Billy Mitchell, Dinklage bring creativity and a sense of fun to his part by giving the character amusing swagger and mannerisms that show more than anything just how decent this could have been with more actors like him in the leads. He gets the movies only legitimately good line when he introduces himself to the creator of Pac-Man by saying I made your game my bitch.
Typical for a Sandler vehicle, PIXELS is loaded with eighties nostalgia, but here it seems appropriate given the material. Columbus seems to have fun staging the 1982-prelude in an arcade, while allowing the aliens to communicate with earth by repurposing vintage eighties clips of MTV, Fantasy Island, Ronald Reagan and best of all a CGI Max Headroom with Matt Frewer re-voicing his old alter-ego.
Again though, any time this gets fun we get more horrible Happy Madison material, with lame-brained moments galore. An example of the caliber of comedy on hand is a bit when a chubby guy in the Oval Office desperately asks Sandler if hes the sandwich guy despite them being in the midst of an alien invasion. The sad thing is, I bet Sandler and company dont even think these idiotic jokes are funny but rather simply expected of them at this point. Given the diminishing box office returns, this doesnt appear to be so. In the end, PIXELS is far from the GHOSTBUSTERS-style comedy Sandler seemed to be aiming for (he even quotes the film saying see you on the other side and lassoed Dan Aykroyd into a cameo) but it could have been something like that were it not for Sandler himself. Watch PIXELS and see a star whos truly turned into his own worst enemy.
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