Pixels Review: PS4 Concept, Atari 2600 Delivery

out of 5

The idea behind the new Adam Sandler film, Pixels, is a good one. Aliens attack earth using classic arcade games as our method of destruction, and only a handful of aged one-time champion game players can save us all. Unfortunately, this is an Adam Sandler movie, so the idea (even if it was seemingly lifted from an episode of Futurama) is wasted on the folks at Happy Madison Productions, as they still haven’t figured out that Sandler’s time in comedy is as long since passed as arcades themselves.

Pixels opens in 1982 where we meet the principal players, all as kids. Brenner (Anthony Ippolito), Cooper (Jared Riley), Ludlow (Jacob Shinder), and Eddie (Andrew Banbridge) are all great game players and they enter a competition with the winners having their matches shot into space on a Voyager-like mission. Cocksure Eddie ends up beating Brenner in the final round, playing Donkey Kong, and that event sets each boy on their respective paths in life.

Pixels Review

Flash forward to present day, and Brenner (Sandler) and Cooper (Kevin James) are still best friends. Brenner works for a Geek Squad-like company as an installer, and Cooper is president of the United States. Yes, Kevin James is the president. And that’s not even the worst thing here. Brenner gets a job installing a bunch of Sony products for a newly-single mother, Violet (Michelle Monaghan) and her son, Matty (Matt Lintz). As Brenner tries to comfort Violet, aliens attack the earth, using Galaga-like ships. President Cooper calls in Brenner to get his opinion (because why wouldn’t he?), and Violet, who also happens to be a DARPA analyst, which gives director Chris Columbus the opportunity to bring the gang together for a series of game-inspired trials with the aliens with the planet at stake.

Ludlow (Josh Gad) is a conspiracy theorist and Eddie (Peter Dinklage) is in jail, and both are brought in once it is decided that the future of humanity should be in the hands of a tired, bored, Adam Sandler and his pals.

And that is where the major problems in Pixels begins to show themselves (if you can get past Paul-friggin-Blart as the U.S. President). Sandler plays the exact same role he always does. He walks through each line as if on autopilot and his borderline misogynistic exchanges with his supposed love interest in Monaghan and his out-of-nowhere berating of those around him just prove once again what audiences have been saying for the last 15 years: Adam Sandler just isn’t funny.

Pixels Review

Pixels does have some funny moments, thanks to Josh Gad, who seems to be the only person actually trying to act here. Dinklage is a one-note joke, and that note is played in every commercial and trailer that has bombarded our senses since early this year. And Kevin James’ President Cooper is still better and funnier than Sandler’s Brenner by a long mile. If that’s not a red flag, then I don’t know the definition of red flags.

The script by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, based off a short film by Patrick Jean (though no mention of the season 4 episode of TVs Futurama which does this exact same story — and so much better — is made) is weak where it needs to be strong. Herlihy is Sandler’s personal writer, it seems, having scripted nearly all of the former SNL stars’ films in the last 20 years. And because of that, every gag and joke is as rundown as the looks on Sandler’s face in this film. And I’m not sure either writer actually understand the subject matter they are writing about, and they just pulled whatever games they could get the licenses to — anachronisms be damned — and just threw whatever would stick at the screen to see if it was funny or even slightly entertaining. It was very little of both.

Pixels Review

Pixels kind of works when it sticks to the overall gaming conflict aspects (there is a best-of-three competition designed by the invading aliens), and the film absolutely dies when it tries to push Brenner and Violet’s not-at-all-believable-or-amusing courting. To put it so very bluntly — in true Adam Sandler fashion — Pixels is a dumb mess that has some funny moments, but all in all is forgettable in every sense of the word.

Possibly, the best thing to come out of Pixels is that Sandler finally realizes what the world has known for years: like arcades and quarter-munching video game cabinets, his time is over. It’s just too bad that an interesting concept  — that could have been so much more in better hands — is wasted to make this point.

Pixels is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.

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