In 1982 Brenner, Adam Sandler, loses in Donkey Kong to his nemesis, Eddie, Peter Dinklage. At the presentation of the trophies, the company who set up the competition sends a time capsule into space which contains samples of these games among other aspects of earth life, with the hopes that it will reach an alien race so they can learn about our culture.
Flash forward many years later and Brenner, who forever rues the day he lost the competition, is a video installer, Eddie, is in jail and his other friend, Cooper, Kevin James, is the President, and Ludlow, Josh Chad, lives with his grandmother and is a conspiracy nut. However, when the aliens receive the capsule they think the video games are real, and decide to take over the earth.
It should be noted that all three of them have ruined their lives. Cooper is seen as a buffoon, who cannot even read, and is mocked openly by the press and even those who work with him. Ludlow, is a pathetic looser, who pines away after a video created woman, and Brenner is a schlep who installs video systems.
There are unquestionably glaring holes in the storyline. The woman, Violet, Michelle Monaghan, that Brenner meets in the beginning to install her son’s new video game system is in the midst of a divorce and when Brenner tries to comfort her, she insults him and they both leave in a huff. Later, when the world is in peril it turns out she is not just any woman, but a top military leader in the government. This sets up a dynamic between the two in which Brenner is constantly teasing her, while she is rebuffing his advances.
Sandler’s Brenner though is never mean or intentionally cruel. He has a light touch with her and others in the film that plays nicely off of Josh Gad’s Ludlow, and Kevin James’s Cooper. Peter Dinklage’s Eddie is the least fleshed out of the characters, and one wonders why he even took the role. It is ham-handed and flat. Brenner’s chemistry with Monaghan is fine, but we needed more scenes between the two of them to add luster to their fire. What we have though is the gentle touch of Sandler who enhances every scene he is in.
His sweet repartee lifts a film which could have been banal into one which has sparkle. This is not to say that this is a perfect film, or that it is inventive. There are no surprises, and there are a myriad of clichés, but it is in the end fun. Many critics have taken a pitch fork to this film, and really unnecessarily so. Why? It harkens back to an age when video games were not a gore fest, but when actual strategy was involved. This is a nice homage to Pac Man, Centipede, Donkey Kong and others.
To this point it is also a tribute to a time before cell phones, internet, social media, and the plethora of other technology that is eroded our culture. This is a film which dazzles not with inane narration, or bawdy jokes, but through presentation.
This is also a family movie, which is not so bland that it bores the adults, but not so outlandish or gross that you cannot take your kids to it. For all the naysayers out there it should be noted that at the end of this film the audience openly and loudly applauded. This was a genuine, resounding heartfelt thank you to the makers of the film. No greater compliment can be given.