“Pixels” (in theaters now) is a misguided attempt to leverage nostalgia into ticket sales – but it will just make children of the ’80s hate their childhood and video games.
In short: The President (Kevin James) calls upon his childhood buddy Sam (Adam Sandler) – a childhood video game prodigy – to use his classic video game expertise to fight an alien invasion. Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage and Michelle Monaghan also star. (watch the trailer)
Here’s how the pitch for “Pixels” likely went — Producer: “Let’s make a movie that taps into generation x’s love of all things classic, specifically old school gaming! Let’s put Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Frogger and Galaga on the big screen with everyone’s favorite actor: Adam Sandler!” Studio: “That’s brilliant! What’s the plot?” Producer: “We’ll have someone bang out a script over the weekend.”
From the thin characters to the bizarre science fiction plot, there are tons of technical reasons why “Pixels” doesn’t work – but the idea that simply dropping classic video game characters into a movie is enough to satisfy audiences is just insulting. The entire justification of this film’s existence is based on the brief “Sandler versus pixelated characters” action scenes – which makes up about 3-4 set pieces. The other 90 percent of “Pixels” is a mishmash of pointlessly odd characters and clunky plot points that gracelessly shoves the movie forward.
Veteran character actors Brian Cox and Sean Bean were pulled into this movie to play characters who does nothing, other then be gruff military guys. They voice dissent, but pose no threat to the characters or story. Anytime “Pixels” picks up any sort of energy, the filmmakers immediately stomp it out by interrupting story momentum with bizarre plot choices. For example, “Pixels” drives the point hard the Sandler’s character “sucks” at Donkey Kong — completely ignoring the fact Sam barely lost the world video game championship as a kid in a neck-and-neck game of “Donkey Kong.” And when aliens are on the brink of destroying the world – the president decides to throw a formal ball — a plot point meant only to address the pointless love interest relationship between Sandler and Monaghan’s characters.
This movie’s treatment of its female actors is pretty insulting. Award-winning actress Jane Krakowski is given an irrelevant character who sputters a few meaningless lines of dialogue. “Pretty Little Liars” star Ashley Benson has zero lines of dialogue – she’s simply a hot blonde in a skimpy warrior outfit. Michelle Monaghan’s character is a high-ranking weapons developer with the military – but she’s reduced to the “snobby” love interest the audience meets as she cries alone in a closet while drinking wine. “Pixels” is the antithesis of modern female empowerment.
This bizarre sci-fi comedy only works during its odd action sequences — but even these admittedly enjoyable moments are short-lived and defined by a very vague set of rules. And it’s the vague nature of this movie that is fundamentally frustrating — this movie goes to great length to establish that these video games are rigid and operate according to patterns — but no such effort is made to define how the video game aliens operate in the real world.
Final verdict: Like Atari did with “E.T.,” it’s time to bury this affront to classic gaming deep under the deserts of New Mexico.
“Pixels” is now playing in theaters nationwide. The science fiction comedy is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments.