Movies: Pixels

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad
Directed By: Chris Columbus
Written By: Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling (Screenplay); Tim Herlihy (Story); Patrick Jean (Short)
Happy Madison/1492, 2015
PG-13; 105 minutes
2.5 stars (out of 5)


My 5-year-old son has wanted to see this movie since the first time he saw a preview for it. He's talked of almost nothing else. And he loved it.

Which tells you something about the film. It's an uncomplicated bit of nostalgic fluff that lacks depth. Sure, my kids don't have any context for 80's video games, but it hardly mattered. If anything, Pixels made them curious about old arcade games. Now they want to visit a local arcade museum and try playing the cabinet games for themselves. A far cry from iPad and Wii stuff.

There's plenty in the movie that raises questions if anyone happens to think too hard about it. For one, under what circumstances would the people of the United States elect someone like Kevin James president? And why didn't they evacuate New York City when they knew what was coming? Why does Lady Lisa look human when the rest of the video game invaders appear "pixelated" (they're really voxels, but I guess that just didn't have the same ring to it)? And why do all the characters appear to have graduated from—as Cinema Sins would call it—the Prometheus school of running away from things?

Yeah, these issues were obvious enough to distract me from the movie. Or, really, the movie didn't have enough meat on its bones to keep me occupied, so my mind went in desperate search of sustenance. But it was stretched from an earlier short film, so one can't expect a feast when the ingredients were so few.

Pixels begins in 1982, where a younger version of Sandler's character Sam Brenner comes in second to a younger version of Dinklage's Eddie at a video gaming contest. Then flash ahead to modern day and Sam is one of those nerd technicians who install TVs and computers for places like Best Buy. Meanwhile, by some bizarre twist of fate, his best friend Cooper (James) is president. Of, like, the United States. And terrible at it.

Then the aliens arrive. Having intercepted a space capsule sent out in 1982 and misinterpreted the contents, they apparently believe humans wage war via video gaming contests (the capsule included video footage of Sam and Eddie battling it out at the contest). Assuming humans are therefore bloodthirsty, the aliens—who are never given a name—decide to go on the offense and challenge the world by creating giant versions of the 80's games. If they win three, they will destroy Earth. If we win three, they will leave us in peace.

It is, of course, utterly ridiculous. Clearly these aliens have technology that is far beyond ours and could annihilate us without ever bothering with the video game thing. But we get almost no real look at this alien culture except through a "trophy" Q-Bert that is sent when Sam and friends win Pac-Man. We're told [spoiler alert, in case you can't already see the obvious end to this film] that President Cooper brokers a peace treaty with the aliens, but . . . ::shrug:: We never see them in their actual form or anything.

Every beat in Pixels is obvious, every plot point telegraphed. There are no surprises here. The dialogue is campy, sometimes even stilted. And yet. There is something earnest in Sandler's performance that is almost endearing. And any movie that so pleases my kids I just can't think of as all that bad. So I give it a solid 2.5 out of 5.

No comments: