Director: Christopher Columbus
Screenplay: Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Brian Cox, Sean Bean
Running Length: 105 minutes
Synopsis: As kids in the 1980s, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Will Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage) saved the world thousands of times – at 25 cents a game in the video arcades. Now, they’re going to have to do it for real. In Pixels, when intergalactic aliens discover video feeds of classic arcade games and misinterpret them as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth, using the video games as the models for their assaults – and now-U.S. President Cooper must call on his old-school arcade friends to save the world from being destroyed by PAC-MAN, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Centipede, and Space Invaders. Joining them is Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), a specialist supplying the arcaders with unique weapons to fight the aliens.
Review: The only reason that Pixels gets a passing grade from me is because of the nostalgia it taps into – after all, the 80s video games that the film so relentlessly references formed part of my childhood. Thus, in spite of the paper-thin, messy plot and the lack of any quality acting, I must admit that there were parts of Pixels that I enjoyed. However, the same probably can’t be said of the majority of the moviegoers that would attempt to watch this film.
The premise that aliens chose to attack Earth because of arcade game footage found in an interstellar time capsule is a thin one, and the seams constantly show in Pixels. Stretching out a two-minute short film (that the story is based on) into an almost two-hour movie is ill-advised in this case, and the absolute paucity of plot means the show wears out its welcome very quickly. There’s absolutely no effort to give any background to the attacking aliens, which makes much of the proceedings rather meaningless, carrying no dramatic weight at all. The aliens may be threatening the total annihilation of Earth, but it never feels like anything is at stake.
While Adam Sandler has honed his portrayal of the sullen man-child to perfection over a good number of films, the rest of the casting leaves much to be desired. Josh Gad is unendingly grating and annoying, while Peter Dinklage doesn’t make much of an impression apart from the weird accent he chose to adopt for his role. Michelle Monaghan is given the totally thankless role of playing Sandler’s love interest, and the absolute lack of chemistry between the duo makes the romantic sequences truly cringe-worthy to sit through.
Fortunately, the visual effects are decent enough, especially during the live-action videogame battles. For viewers that grew up in the 80s, it will be fun to look out for videogame icons like Donkey Kong, Mario, Q*Bert, Frogger, Paperboy and more. However, Wreck-It Ralph has already done a much better job back in 2012 integrating these into a movie, and boasts a far stronger plot, despite being an animated film. There’s really only that much nostalgic good-will that one can tap into, and even for myself I was scraping the bottom of the barrel barely halfway through the movie.
Rating: * * (out of four stars)