Pixels Movie Review
Adam Sandler is back to torment uptight critics once again, but his latest venture, the family friendly alien invasion flick Pixels, is a surprisingly decent romp that manages to avoid, though certainly not entirely escape, the actor's comedic trappings.
Pixels is like a poor man's Wreck-It Ralph, a comedy yearning to tap into the nostalgic zeitgeist of 80's video games. But whereas Wreck-It Ralph had everything it needed to succeed, Pixels has Adam Sandler. And his particular brand of humor that really hasn't changed in 20 years. I'm no Sandler hater--Happy Gilmore was one of my favorite comedies growing up--but Pixels is a movie with an amazing concept that is limited by a sophomoric screenplay.
It works on a rudimentary level, but comes no where close to fulfilling its potential.
The movie is about an alien species that intercepts a NASA probe sent from Earth and misinterprets the various arcade game recordings included within as a hostile challenge. The aliens arrive, looking a whole heck of a lot like the old arcade games you played as a kid. Game on.
Pixels is fun enough. The action, under the guidance of director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Home Alone), is just okay, but given the comedic nature of the film and the absurdity of the concept, it compliments the story. The characters are as silly as you'd expect from an Adam Sandler movie, with Sandler playing the quasi-straight man while his pals (played by Kevin James, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage) do their best portrayal of being idiots. Gad is pretty funny as a video game loner with dark and quasi-violent tendencies, while Dinklage gets to act like a cocky asshole because why the hell not. Michelle Monaghan is fine as Sandler's love interest, though that's about all that can be said.
Where the movie falls short is where Wreck-It Ralph succeeded: making the nostalgia of video games core to the story. Columbus and crew throw plenty of video game references at the screen, from Centipede to Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. But the movie could have certainly done more to intertwine the various other arcade characters in a more interesting and funny way, rather than just vomiting them onto the screen in the chaotic climax.
In the end, it feels like an Adam Sandler movie with a cooler premise bolted on top, with little effort given to producing synergy among the various elements.
Pixels is full of chuckle-worthy moments, but it's not quite a rib-tickler, either. The movie struggles when it goes full Sandler, those moments where you could tell the filmmakers had no better ideas so they just reverted to the humor that hasn't worked for Sandler in a good ten years.
On a side note, how much better would this movie have been had Kevin James not been in it? His portrayal as the President of the United States is simply cringe-inducing, and while some of the problems lay with the script, James is just plain bad here.
Pixels is not a great movie, but for mindless family fun, you could do a whole lot worse. It's fast paced, silly and just fun enough to make it worth it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.