Adam Sandler. The name alone can provoke certain feelings of horror. This fear has been felt by anyone who has sat through Grown Ups, or Little Nicky, or any of the other horribly pointless and pointlessly horrible films that make up the decomposing corpse masquerading as Sandler’s body of work. Films like Punch Drunk Love and Funny People have kept it on life support, but only just.
So, when a new Adam Sandler film arrives, it’s not a surprising reaction to expect the worst. However, as the words ‘Game Over’ appeared on screen indicating the end of his latest film Pixels, the hushed crowded slowly looked at one another. Rumblings began to move through the audience, and we all agreed: ‘Well, that was far better than I thought it was going to be.’
It might be faint praise, but it’s praise nonetheless.
Back in 1982, a time capsule was launched into space in the hope of allowing alternate life forms a taste of Earth’s civilization. Included in the footage was material of arcade games (Galaga, Donkey Kong, etc.), which aliens somehow misconstrued as a declaration of war. Now, in present day, these aliens challenge humans to their own games, with a life-sized Pac Man roaming the streets and a dragon-like Centipede attacking from the sky. Each team has three lives: if Earth wins, the aliens go home; if the aliens win, Earth will be destroyed.
Our only hope is former gaming guru Sam Brenner (Sandler), who must come to the aid of his close friend, the President of the United States, played by Kevin James (yes, really).
It’s not a film that sets out to be believable, as there’d be simply too many questions. Why would the aliens take the form of something they have seen humans master and beat? How can you cheat at a game that’s being played out in real life and not on a console? Why is Josh Gad a movie star? If you manage to let these questions go, you’ll most likely have a good time.
Pixels has moments of humour throughout, but any real laughs come within the first reel, before things get too flash-bang-wallop. The laughter dies away as we move into the action, which would be natural enough, if the film wasn’t still trying to be funny. Not one Josh Gad joke lands, and arrogant rival Eddie (Peter Dinklage) is more annoying than anything. At one point, Q*Bert joins the team, and becomes more irritating than blistered sunburn. Q*Bert is the Jar-Jar Binks of this movie.
All that aside, Pixels does deliver some inventive and interesting action scenes. Chris Columbus, director of the first two Harry Potters and the first two Home Alones knows how to craft a solid story. The Pac Man chase is inventive (if logically flawed) and the way in which everything turns to cubes (pixels, if you will) when destroyed is a nice touch.
The big question, however, is who is Pixels for? Unless you grew up during the 80s, chances are you don’t know what Centipede or Arkanoid are, so no nostalgic positivity can be directed towards the film. Pixels may well fall between the cracks as it tries tend to the needs of both those in their thirties and those in their teens.
That said, Pixels is an interesting movie idea, well executed, and a far cry from the piss-poor previous Sandler outings. Blended this ain’t.