By Adam Garcia
The 1-4-0: Adam Sandler and Chris Columbus try, and fail, to tap into 80’s nostalgia to make an ultimately forgettable alien invasion film.
The Gist: Based on the vastly superior 2010 short film, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Will Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), and Eddie “Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage) use their mastery of classic arcade games to fight off an alien invasion made up of Pac-Man, Galaga, and Donkey Kong.
What Works: This film features some great CGI monsters, thanks in no small part to its central premise—they need to look like computer generated pixels plucked from the arcade. Peter Dinklage gleefully chews the scenery while killing time during his Game of Thrones hiatus and Josh Gad fully commits to Ludlow’s geeky conspiracy theorist, both garnering many of the few genuine laughs. Beyond that, there are a few chuckles, and maybe one or two laugh out loud moments, but nothing that leaves a lasting impression.
What Doesn’t Work: Pixels is an uninspired paint-by-numbers story, cribbing from classic films such as Ghostbusters for a half-baked journey into 80’s nostalgia. Simply put, you’ve seen this film done significantly better a dozen times before. In fact, the film is practically a one-for-one remake of Futurama’s hilarious what-if episode “Anthology of Interest II.”
Adam Sandler phones in his performance, sucking the energy out of every scene he’s in, which, considering he’s the lead, is most of the film. The romance between Sandler’s Brenner and Violet (Michelle Monghan) is forced, moving from schoolyard banter to tepid flirtation without anything approaching chemistry. Kevin James is improbably cast as the goofball President of the United States, with many of his scenes feeling shoehorned in to fill time.
This would all be perhaps forgivable if the film had anything approaching a consistent tone or internal logic. Had the filmmakers gone full tilt with the story’s goofy high concept, you could forgive the haphazard way it moves from set-piece to set-piece or its minefield of plot holes. Instead the film leaves the audience with hundreds of unanswered questions, chief among them if any of the filmmakers actually played the video games that are featured in the film, much less any video game at all?
Pay or Nay: Nay. The film is ultimately inoffensive but completely forgettable. Wait to watch it on a rainy Saturday afternoon when you’ve given up looking for something to watch. Or better yet, if you’re looking for video game inspired films, simply watch the original short, Futurama’s “Anthology of Interest II,” or Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. And if you’re in need of some of that pure, uncut 80’s arcade nostalgia, pick up Ernest Cline’s excellent debut novel, Ready Player One.
Rated: PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments
Release Date: July 24, 2015
Screenplay: Tim Herlihy
Director(s): Chris Columbus
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Film Genre: Action | Comedy | Sci-Fi