‘Pixels’ Review: Lazy as @!#?@!


Movie Rating:


Oh, Adam Sandler. How a generation used to love ye. There was a time when the Sand-man walked a tightrope between mainstream crowd-pleasing and anarchistic surrealism better than anyone. That time was the mid-1990s. Now he just might be the laziest billionaire in Hollywood. At this point, the only thing guaranteed to be worse than an Adam Sandler comedy is a movie based on videogames. What’s that? Sandler made a videogame movie?! God help us all…

The saddest thing about ‘Pixels’ is that the several hundred million dollar mess actually sprung from a genuinely creative idea. Filmmaker Patrick Jean made a clever little short depicting a major city being attacked by 8-bit videogame characters that was ingenious in its simplicity and stunning in its execution. Eventually, the rights to the movie were bought up by Hollywood, and now the feature film ‘Pixels’ can be shown in film school as a textbook example of how the studio system can transform absolutely anything into a tediously dull assembly line product unfit for human consumption.

The new and unimproved ‘Pixels’ kicks off in the early ’80s at a videogame competition straight out of ‘The King of Kong,’ only without the laughs. Fast-forward to the present day and onetime arcade game champion Brenner (Sandler) is now an underachieving home theater installer. His former best bud Cooper (Kevin James) is the President of the United States. (Don’t ask how, the movie offers no answers.)

Brenner just met the future love of his life (Michelle Monaghan, who deserves better) on a job. The only thing he needs to jumpstart his life and claim that love is the opportunity to be a hero. Good news! Apparently, an alien race received a space probe in 1982 that featured clips from Sandler’s arcade tournament that the aliens considered an act of war. So now they’ve sent down all the classic 8-bit arcade characters to destroy earth. Only Sander, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage in a mullet can stop them. Why? Don’t worry about it! Simply by asking that question, you’ve already put more thought into ‘Pixels’ than the screenwriters ever did.

The most amusing part of watching an Adam Sandler movie from the last five years has been seeing the astounding new heights of laziness that the comedian has been able to reach as an actor, producer and writer. On that level, ‘Pixels’ might be the least amount of effort Sandler has put into a project to date. He didn’t even come up with a concept this time, so he can’t take that credit. Instead, he merely hired some old buddies to crank out a script so flimsy that it feels like a first draft. It features storytelling so lazy that it boggles the mind any studio would fork over cash for it.

At one point, Sandler and his gang struggle to figure out how to defeat the aliens when a previously silent Q*bert just tells them. No character questions how Q*bert can suddenly talk or the validity of the plan. Nope, they just move along so that the movie can keep going. During a climactic battle, the four main cast members have to shoot 8-bit aliens out of the sky in a quantity they clearly can’t handle alone. Given that it’s established that the lightguns they’re using could be fired by anyone and that there are enough of them for an army, help could easily arrive. Instead, the filmmakers just ignore that possibility, assuming their target audience is too stupid to care. Honestly, the entire script is this flimsily constructed and it’s insulting to sit through.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Yeah, so an Adam Sandler movie is stupid, big whoop. Is it funny? That’s all that matters.” Don’t you worry your little head about that. The movie is never funny. It’s just a collection of puns, tedious pop culture references, and overpaid actors pulling silly faces in place of where the actual jokes should go. It’s as if all the writers had before shooting was an outline that they promised the actors they would fill with jokes and then never bothered.

The performances aren’t much better. Sandler delivers the acting equivalent of a feature length shrug. There’s no actual proof that he was even awake for most of filming. The best that can be said about Kevin James is that he’s better here than he was in ‘Paul Blart 2’. Michelle Monaghan smiles and looks pretty because all the female characters in the movie are just trophies for the guys to win (literally so in once case). Josh Gad looks desperate, but at least puts in effort. The only actor to register at all is Peter Dinklage, who is admittedly fun to watch. However, even his work comes with a little pain because you can’t help but feel terrible about the fact that this was somehow the best role offered to an actor so talented.

Directing the whole dumb mess is Chris Columbus, a filmmaker with an actual track record, which is a rarity in a Sandler movie. You might think that would make ‘Pixels’ feel more like an actual movie, but you’d be wrong. Any time the actors take over the scenes, it’s just the same lazy line readings and blocking of any Happy Madison production, only with slightly better framing. Admittedly, Columbus gets to show off some of his skill with spectacle in the big action scenes, but the homemade short film from five years ago somehow still looks more impressive than the massive Hollywood version.

Columbus has made some great films over the years, but he’s also made some forgettably beige ones. Together, Columbus and Sandler have brought out the worst in each other and delivered something that gives ‘Bicentennial Man’ or ‘Jack & Jill’ a run for their money as the low points in each man’s respective career. The only possibly excuse for ‘Pixels’ turning out this horribly is the small possibility that Sandler deliberately sabotaged the project as revenge for those mean emails from the Sony hack. Otherwise, this colossal waste of time, money and talent is a slap in the face to moviegoers. Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.

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  1. I’m sure I already know the answer to this, but does anyone in the movie acknowledge that the alien videogame characters aren’t even made of pixels? They’re voxels.

    • Timcharger

      So that was you. It was you. You were the 1 guy.
      5 years ago on that viral video on youtube.
      You had to thumbs down it, because “voxels”
      is the correct word over “pixels.”
      You’re THAT guy.

        • Timcharger

          All I’m saying is that the original was also titled Pixels.

          For all the things wrong in this film (as reviewed by Phil),
          the title ISN’T the problem. And on the grounds of the
          original title and for marketing purposes, calling it Voxels
          would be worse.

          But you are grammatically correct. You’re THAT guy.

          Please Josh, upload the video of you at the theater.
          Everytime “Pixel” is said, tell the strangers around you.
          “No, those are Voxels!”

          • timcharger

            When the comment is witty like your Southpaw Billy “Great White” Hope, I play along and give u kudos.

            When it’s Pixel/Voxel bad, u gotta get called out, too.

          • Timcharger

            Grammatically correct/scientifically correct/just plain
            using the right word.

            I wonder if back in ’88 before the big Bruce Willis film
            (the best action film of all time, some would say)…

            If there was someone who was THAT guy. Someone
            who made the point that it would be more accurate to
            put a hyphen between Die and Hard or propose that
            it should be changed to Difficult to Die.

        • Timcharger

          For your future blu-ray releases of the week write-up,
          I’m looking forward to your comments on the Pixels release.

          I’m betting it’s:
          “I hate this film, but for the nostalgia of those classic video games,
          I’m going to buy it. But on my collection shelves, I’m filing this film
          under ‘V’ for Voxels!”

  2. Heading to see this tomorrow with my dad, I thought the trailer looked hilarious and I’m excited to see it…..I’m easily pleased with most movies and it has to be really bad, like Sharknado bad, for me to skip it usually. I loved the short and am looking forward to checking this out. The reviews have been pretty terrible but I’ll judge for myself, I’ve seen some that have really enjoyed the movie so who knows 🙂

    • Ryan

      This looks as bad to me as any scyfy movie ever made. then again I’ve never been a Kevin James fan and Sandler hasn’t made a good comedy in so long I honestly can’t remember. I wish this movie epic failure and to be the death of James and Saddlers careers… though I know that won’t happen given sandlers Netflix deal and if Sandler makes movies James stays working…

      just my opinion though

      • You dont know bad movies if this looks as bad as a Syfy flick….

        Well after seeing it, I agree with a lot of the review, its no where NEAR the level of bad as any Syfy movie, its just really damn lazy. Sandler didnt right this movie, so I’m blaming quite a bit of this on the script, so much missed the mark when it came to the banter between everyone, it had its moments and the action was pretty awesome actually, if the whole movie could have been that fun, this would be a huge winner, but so much of the dialogue was forced and pretty damn awkward, which is a shame, and whats really sad, is that the guy who wrote this, wrote pretty much most of Sandlers decent movies like The Waterboy and Happy Gilmore…..dont get how this could have turned out so bad in that department.

        Alas, at least I didnt pay money to see it as I had a free ticket sitting around, but this could have been one of the funnest movies of the summer hands down so it hurts even more really that half of the film was pretty bad, just wish the in between stuff was as funny and engaging as the action and set pieces were….being a huge 80s fan with a big love for arcades and the classics still helped the movie enough to probably enjoy it again though, I’ve certainly seen worse movies than this when it comes down to it 🙂

  3. Kevin James could actually become President of the United States, right? I’m no American, so I can’t quote your constitution by heart, but if I recall correctly from those ‘American Culture’ classes I took, I think the only thing that you HAVE to be (in order to become President) is … born on American soil. Right?

    So, Kevin James has a legit shot. He’s an actor. Reagan was an actor! 🙂

    • EM

      Fudge, I replied to the wrong Julian post.

      Contrary to what some nutcases were spouting during and after the Obama–McCain race, a US President does not have to be born on US soil. A US President does have to be a “natural-born” citizen. The matter is a little complex: Generally, persons born on US soil can qualify as natural-born citizens, but so can persons born abroad to at least one US citizen. There are exceptions to both cases.

      There are other Constitutional qualifications. The President must be at least 35 years old and must have been a permanent resident of the US for at least 14 years. Of course, one must also have been elected or have succeeded in a prescribed manner. There are also some disqualifying conditions in some cases regarding previous impeachment or rebellion.

        • EM

          Schwarzenegger had no American parents and was not born on US soil. In adulthood he became a naturalized citizen, but he’s not a natural-born citizen and therefore is excluded from ever serving as President or Vice-President. There has sometimes been talk of amending the Constitution to change that rule; I could favor such a change, but not for Schwarzenegger’s sake. 😛

  4. Les

    Went to Pixels this weekend with my wife and son and we all loved it!! Just another reason why I typically do not listen to critics. I did read a number of critic reviews that lambasted this movie but I and my family went to it anyway. This was a fun family movie and it did not disappoint us anyway. My wife doesn’t even like Adam Sandler or Kevin James and she really like it! We were all laughing all the way through it. Loved it when Max Headroom showed up.

    Each to his own, I guess. I will be picking this up on Blu-ray and Digital HD.

    • theHDphantom

      Same here. Went and saw it with my girlfriend and we both highly enjoyed it. Like you, I don’t even listen to critics (especially when they’re reviewing Adam Sandler films). Hopefully there’s a blu-ray steelbook of this one. Will definitely lay down the money to get it on day one.

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