Do you remember when you were a kid and you went to the arcade to waste away all your quarters on your favorite video games like PAC-Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong and Centipede? Remember how you had to wait in line behind the better, more experienced players before you got your turn? Sure, it’s fun to watch them play their game … for a bit. After awhile, it gets a little old. That is pretty much the same feeling you get while watching Adam Sandler’s Pixels.
It’s not that Pixels doesn’t have its funny moments, it does. And the special effects are pretty cool too. When the aliens start hitting things on earth and they disintegrate into flashing cubes, it is fun to watch and is full of mystery. But overall, the film feels unfinished and it appears that the makers are unsure who their target audience is supposed to be. Like the example up above about the local arcade, younger generations cannot relate to it. If you are of a certain age, you experienced when video games went from playing “Pong” to “Donkey Kong.” This film seems to appeal to that generation, while also extending an olive branch to younger viewers, but the result is uneven at best. Being that this film was directed by Chris Columbus (Night of the Museum, Harry Potter), I expected more.
Pixels begins in the early ’80’s where Brenner and Cooper, (young Adam Sandler and Kevin James look-alikes) are kids attending the grand opening of a new video arcade. To Brenner’s surprise, he finds that he has a knack for following the patterns and conquering the games. Cooper encourages him to sign up for a video game competition. It is there that they meet Ludlow the “Wonder Kid” (a lonely brainiac who finds conspiracies everywhere and falls in love with a computer game character) and his ultimate opponent, Eddie, who challenges him to a game of Donkey Kong that doesn’t end well.
Fast forward to 2015, Brenner (Adam Sandler) now works as an electronics installer for a Best Buy-like store. His best friend Cooper (Kevin James) is now the president of the United States and the two meet up regularly just like out times but with secret service. Suddenly, the world is being attacked by aliens in the form of video games. The aliens choose to speak their messages to the inhabitants of earth by using old ’80’s footage of various celebrities and basically challenge Earth to a duel. The aliens will send down real life versions of former video games and it’s going to take a few Davids to match this Goliath. Of course, it is up to Brenner to lead the battle against the electronic beasts with the help of a grown up Ludlow (Josh Gad) and Eddie (Peter Dinklage, in a role that doesn’t do him any favors). The rest of the film is a fantasy adventure that doesn’t live up to its potential.
Yes, Pixels is built on an unbelievable premise, but even so, movies are made all the time with unbelievable premises, but they succeed because they feature a storyline and characters that we actually care about. Pixels comes with all the right characters including the hot but unapproachable leading lady who happens to be mom on the brink of divorce (Violet played by Michelle Monaghan), the young son whose parents are getting a divorce and could really use a male role model (Matty played by Matt Lintz), the nice guy who never reached his potential (Brenner), the bad guy who hasn’t changed over the years (Eddie), the misunderstood genius (Ludlow) and others, but doesn’t do a whole lot with them and what’s worse, we don’t really care. Some of the star’s talents, namely Dan Aykroyd and Jane Krakowski, are wasted in forgettable roles.
The biggest flaw with Pixels is its story. We never really learn how objects are turned into pixels, if things can be turned back and if they are lethel. An explanation on why the earth is being attacked is given early on, but it is done in a way that the audience has to trust the movie-maker. The movie seems to break it’s own rules as it goes. The story is too simple for adults and probably too confusing for young ones. For the climax, it is as if the writers just gave up and threw every computer game character on the screen because they didn’t know what else to do.
Despite all the negative, the film does feature some feel-good moments including a few cameos (the best is Matt Frewer reprising his Max Headroom persona) and the addition of Denis Akiyama playing the role of Professor Iwatan, the creator of PAC-Man. The movie is fairly unoffensive and has a few good one-liner. The film will be good for a rental, but not much more. In short, the film should have been more creative and fun given its source material.