“I believe that some alien life-force, has sent real life video games, to attack us.”
Chris Columbus, the man who directed the first two Harry Potter films as well as Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, Adventures of Babysitting, and many more family friendly films that I actually enjoyed, now directs Adam Sandler in Pixels, a film that aims to appeal to those adults that grew up in the early 80’s playing classic arcade games, but unfortunately it only ends up being entertaining for younger audiences due to its cliche jokes and formulaic structure. I must confess that I once was a huge Adam Sandler fan and watched everything he did from his Billy Madison days up to Jack and Jill in 2011 (with Chuck and Larry being the only exception, which somehow I miraculously missed). As a young teen I found his movies hilarious, but as I grew older his schtick got repetitive and I somehow decided to give up on him. I hadn’t seen another film starring Sandler since Jack and Jill, but decided to give this one a try for nostalgic sake and because Columbus’s films usually appealed to me despite his films being overly sentimental at times. It didn’t hurt that Peter Dinklage was also starring in this film since I love what he does (his short scene in Elf is one of my favorites and he is awesome in Game of Thrones). All these factors managed to convince me to watch Pixels despite my low expectations and I honestly got what I was expecting. It’s as if Adam Sandler directs all his comedies because they are so similar in tone despite never having directed, but I guess the directors always let him improvise and he ends up making the same jokes in every movie. The only positive feedback I’ll give Pixels is that it did manage to engage with the younger audiences; my ten year old brother had a blast, so it might make some money at the box office.
Based on Patrick Jean’s own screenplay for a short film he made in 2010 (which seems far more appealing to me), this feature film opens in the 80’s with a group of kids who grew up loving arcade games. Brenner (Anthony Ippolito) is so good at predicting these game patterns that he signs up to compete in an arcade national championship. His closest friend, Cooper (Jared Riley), is there cheering for him and he truly believes Brenner is destined for great things in life. During the tournament they also befriend a young boy named Ludlow (Jacob Shinder) who is obsessed with a cyber game character named Lady Lisa (Ashley Benson). Unfortunately, Brenner is defeated by Eddie (Andrew Bambridge), a loud mouthed arcade lover who goes by the nickname of fire blaster. The film then jumps to the present where we discover Brenner (Adam Sandler) hasn’t really accomplished anything in life. He installs technical equipment for a company called Nerd. Cooper (Kevin James) however has become the President of the nation. Nerd sends Brenner to Violet’s (Michelle Monaghan) home to install the latest gadgets for her young son Matty (Matt Lintz). Brenner and Violet have a small moment, but when he tries to lean in and kiss her things get ugly between them. Right after that awkward moment Brenner receives a call from Cooper about an alien attack on Earth (and so does Violet who is then revealed to be a Lieutenant). Apparently these aliens have attacked using the arcade game format created through pixels, and the only way to defeat them is similar to the way they played the game. Brenner enlists the help of Ludlow (Josh Gad) and his archenemy Eddie (Peter Dinklage) to try to defeat these alien invaders and save the Earth.
As ridiculous or appealing as the premise sounds (depending on wether or not you’re nostalgic over these classic arcade games) the greatest problem with Pixels is that its incredibly hard to believe some of the relationships between these characters. The first time Adam Sandler and Michelle Monaghan’s characters meet, the dialogue between them is so phony and forced that it makes it impossible to relate to. That scene was probably one of the worst I’ve seen all year. Kevin James, Josh Gad, and Brian Cox can be funny people, but they play the same characters they’ve been playing in recent years. Dinklage’s Fire Blaster seems to be either hit or miss for some people, and I actually found his character to be the funniest in the movie. No one here is actually trying hard and the film is proof of that, but audiences that are simply looking to escape for a couple of hours might find it amusing. I still don’t know what Jane Krakowski was doing in this film since her character isn’t given anything to do despite her comedic talents. She should’ve been used more. Pixels is recycled Sandler material that will only appeal to hardcore 80’s nostalgic gamers and young kids who enjoy pretty much any adventure.