I’m a fan of Adam Sandler’s older movies. Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison are two of the best comedies of the 90s. The problem is that while I’ve grown up since the 90s, Adam Sandler has not, or at least his idea of comedy hasn’t. His latest film, Pixels, had all the promise in the world. Video game characters from the 80s invade Earth and must be stopped by a few one-time legendary gamers who are now all grown up. Unfortunately, Sandler and his team decided to ignore the massive potential of this plot and instead made a movie that insults what most would consider modern comedy.
Back in the 90s it wasn’t cool to be a nerd. If you told someone you played video games for a living you were generally laughed at. These days, liking comic books and being a professional gamer are commonplace and in many cases considered cool. When nearly 30 million people tune in to watch the League of Legends finals, you can safely say that gaming is no longer the taboo profession it was so long ago. It’s sad that much of the premise behind Pixels centers on a few washed up “nerds” who are looked down upon because they like video games.
Let’s back up a bit so we can really take a look at what’s wrong with Pixels. First of all, Kevin James plays President Cooper. You read that correctly, Kevin James plays the President of the United States. Let’s suspend belief for a moment and assume that could happen and the world wouldn’t completely ridicule the US for having an overweight President. In typical Adam Sandler movie fashion, James plays the President like he’s a bumbling idiot. Even his senior staff disapproves and wonders if it would be better for the alien invaders to win.
Sandler plays Brenner, a struggling adult who works for what is essentially Best Buy’s Geek Squad, installing electronic equipment. When he was younger, he participated in the 1982 arcade game championships and ended up losing to Eddie (Peter Dinklage). He had great hopes for himself, but obviously things didn’t turn out very well. Now, instead of using the real arcade game championships or even something similar to what was shown in The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, we get a lackluster parody of the proceedings that adds very little to the film and will likely turn off a good number of hardcore gamers (you know, a big audience for the film).
Peter Dinklage is a great actor. He’s shown time and time again that he can steal a scene from anyone in the business. Yet in Pixels he has some of the worst lines and plays a generic, one-dimensional antagonist. He is the standard villain from Sandler’s films of the 90s and that just doesn’t work anymore. Even the Marvel movies, which have been criticized for having weak antagonists, manage to make them more meaningful than anything we get out of Dinklage. He did what he could with the script, but aside from complete rewriting the film, even his best efforts were lost.
The visual effects in Pixels are great, and once the aliens invade and the “Arcaders” as they’re called, fight back, things actually start to get fun. The first few invasions adhere to the rules of the classic arcade games, but even those sequences are sullied by Admiral Porter (Brian Cox). In typical Adam Sandler movie fashion, he never has anything of significance to add to a scene. He’s in the movie to be that guy who hates on everything and then gets proved wrong in the end. His decisions make no sense despite the fact that he’s a direct adviser to the President.
Even the good will from some of the high quality invasion scenes is quickly thrown out the window as the movie progresses. Things are left with no explanation, including a key plot point in which the aliens just get to invade without following the rules of the engagement set at the beginning of the film. Astute viewers and gaming fans should be able to figure out which rules were broken, but it’s never explained to the general audience, and most won’t get it.
If you told me that Pixels was made for a 10-year-old, it would make a lot more sense to me. The movie treats the audience as though they’ll laugh at anything. Unfortunately, those 10-year-olds probably don’t even know what Galaga is, and the movie is rated PG-13, so there’s really no excuse for just childish humor. Every opportunity for intelligent humor is thrown out the window in favor of random jokes that only children would laugh at. There are a few good moments that stand out, but it’s not enough to salvage the film.
Put this same idea in the hands of Edgar Wright or Joss Whedon and we’d likely get another exceptional film that appeals to audiences of all ages. Instead, Sandler used it as a vehicle for himself and we get garbage in return. If you catch the movie on cable or decide to Redbox it, you probably won’t be too disappointed. You will laugh and there are some good scenes scattered throughout the film, but overall this is a huge missed opportunity on all accounts.
Synopsis: When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games.
Director: Chris Columbus
Writers: Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling
Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan
Runtime: 105 Minutes
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.