Hearing about a new Adam Sandler movies used to excite me, but now it just fills me with fear.
Pixels, on its face, at least seemed like an interesting idea brimming with potential: for some reason aliens attack Earth using massive real-life versions classic arcade games (like Galaga, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, etc), and the best video gamers in the world are called upon to save the human race.
It’s a nerd fantasy that’s supposed to inspire awe and nostalgia, or at least a offer a cool and fun visual feast thanks to modern special effects. The fact that it is directed by Chris Columbus, the dude who gave us the first two Harry Potter films, the first two Home Alone films and Mrs Doubtfire, also suggested that it would at least be a technically sound production.
I guess I shouldn’t have expected so much from an Adam Sandler movie.
Pixels is actually not a horrible film by Sandler’s recent standards. At the very least it’s not as atrocious as the Grown Ups movies or trash like Jack and Jill or Thats’s My Boy. It’s biggest problem is that it’s just really lazy. Everything just reeks of laziness. Lazy script, lazy performances, and even a lazy effort from the typically reliable Columbus.
Let’s start with the script. The story itself is a great idea, but that’s about it. The execution of the story is cliched and mechanical, arbitrarily ticking off plot points just to drag the narrative from point A to point B. Worse, it is completely lacking in logic. That’s normal for Sandler comedies of old, but those were great because they made sense within their own universe. There are decisions made in Pixels that make no sense in any world, and I’m not even talking about the sci-fi elements. It’s as though the script was reviewed by a petulant child who demanded that everything be amended to his/her liking, with no consideration of what developed brains might think.
Then there’s the performances. Sandler, at this stage, feels like he’s just phoning it in. There’s a deadness in his eyes that permeates his acting. It’s a shame, because there are flashes of the old Sandler in this film — when he’s being a smartarse tossing wisecracks and making fun of people. It’s the only time when he seems to have any energy. Instead, we get scenes like the one where his character is doing a moonwalk, and just when he’s about to do it the camera switches to the legs of someone who clearly isn’t Sandler (the legs look about 100 pounds lighter, for starters), before switching back to his upper body again. It’s that lazy.
Michelle Monaghan plays the token female character and there’s not a whole lot for her to do. The forced romance between her and Sandler’s character is predictable and cringeworthy, another example of the film’s laziness and excessive willingness to follow film tropes.
Kevin James again plays Sandler’s sidekick, though his character happens to be a very important person. I would say it’s completely implausible, but then again, we’re living in a world where Donald Trump could be US president soon. James has a few solid lines, but for the most part he’s relegated to the background.
The only actors I felt put in any real effort are Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad, who play two fellow top-level gamers. Dinklage plays Sandler’s douchebag childhood rival, and he seems to relish the opportunity to portray a character with some unusual fetishes. Gad plays a younger gaming prodigy who grows up to be a conspiracy nut who is still in love with a fictional gaming character. Both actors try, but only Dinklage is consistently funny. It’s not Gad’s fault; it’s just that his character isn’t interesting enough.
Lastly, we come to the ordinarily reliable Columbus. There’s nothing really wrong with the film from a technical perspective, and the special effects indeed very nice, but for whatever reason, Columbus fails to inject Pixels with what it needs most: a sense of fun and excitement. It’s strange, because the innovative ideas are all there. On paper, the real-life video game battles should be fantastic, though for me, apart from the Pac-Man stage, there wasn’t much to capture the imagination.
The end result is a surprisingly bland film with much less passion and enthusiasm than it ought to have had. It would be unfair to say Pixels has no merit. There is still a cool concept at heart, slick visuals and some laughs along the way. It’s just that the film with this much potential– even with Sandler’s involvement — should never have been this dull.
2.25 stars out of 5