Pixels movie starring Adam Sandler

Pixels Review

Ever since the trailer for the latest Happy Madison production arrived, moviegoers everywhere have been asking the same question: is Peter Dinklage in a mullet enough to make this one worthwhile? Like most post-90s Adam Sandler movies, Pixels has been critically panned across the border. With an astounding 19% rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing this, I’m sure even devoted Sandler fans have wondered if this one is worth their time and money.

Yet while it is nothing special, I have to give the movie credit where it deserves for being a modern summer blockbuster that isn’t a superhero movie, reboot or sequel. In spite of the film’s mostly lackluster humor, I found the concept rather refreshing and intriguing, along with its nicely executed video game style action sequences.

Pixels follows former gaming legend Sam Brenner (Sandler), who’s now a middle-aged technology salesman inwardly wanting to relive the glory days of PAC-MAN, Donkey Kong and Galaga. His best friend Cooper (Kevin James) is now a joke of a President, and their childhood gaming friend Ludlow (Josh Gad) is a conspiracy theorist who of course lives in his grandmother’s basement.

Yet these unlikely heroes find their calling when aliens invade Earth in the form of classic video game characters that these guys grew up with. This is because when NASA sent video feeds of classic arcade games into space back in the 80s, the aliens misinterpreted them as a declaration of war. Sure it’s ridiculous, but this is a movie where Kevin James is the President of the United States! What do you expect?

In order to combat this intergalactic threat, the team must also recruit Brenner’s rival Eddie (Dinklage), who’s now in prison, as a result of his unmatched gaming skills. With the fate of the world in their hands, it’s up to these guys to prove themselves the Ghostbusters of the new millennium.

The best parts of this movie stem from action comedy master Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone, Harry Potter 1 & 2) being in the director’s chair. His aesthetic pays off, particularly in the final battle where Brenner faces off with Donkey Kong. The introduction reminded me somewhat of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, with the opening credits appearing on the screens of the arcade games.

Yet while this works great, Columbus’ unique style is undeniably juxtaposed with Sandler’s subpar jokes. Let me go ahead and say that I like the guy and I especially enjoy his 90s classics like The Waterboy and Billy Madison. He gives moviegoers stupid comedies, and that’s ok.

Here though, the problem is that it’s too overtly optimistic for a modern comedy. Comedic filmmakers like Wright and Kevin Smith understand the rewards of incorporating a healthy dose of cynicism and self deprecation into their films. Sandler and his partners at Happy Madison however rely solely on cheap sex and fart jokes to drive their scripts along. This approach only works for so long.

Beyond that, Sandler and Michelle Monaghan as his love interest Violet have zero chemistry. Their screen time together starts off weak and just never gets going. It should also be noted that the exposition is pretty unnecessarily drawn out.

It’s this kind of meshing between a typical Adam Sandler comedy and a more interesting Columbus film that causes the movie to stumble. It was based on a nicely done French short film by Patrick Jean (who’s also an executive producer on this feature) which you can see here.

In the end, there’s plenty to enjoy about the final product: the concept and story, the nostalgia, the visuals and of course Tyrion Lannister (I mean Peter Dinklage) in a mullet. At the same time, the mostly dry humor and some of the casting take it a few steps back. Despite its flaws, I would advocate for fans of 80s pop culture to see it simply because there are some gems in it and it’s a more original flick in a franchise-dominated market. But if you want to save your money, I understand.

Grade: C

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