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.