Video game experts are recruited by the military to fight 1980s-era video game characters who've attacked New York.
Nostalgia can be something to revisit as a decent form of escapism from one’s current worries. It feels so refreshing to turn back the hands of time and recall all the wonderful memories and perks of our younger days and, what is not to consider about the days gone by when reminiscing about certain trends in music, fashion, entertainment or past relationships? For this particular theme regarding director Chris Columbus’s tepid comedy ‘Pixels’, the focus pays homage to the old school pastime of video games. Sure, ‘Pixels’ tries to recapture the glory days of 80s video game mania and wrap it into an off-kilter disaster comedy that awkwardly borrows heavily from another 80s iconic big screen laugher we affectionately recognize as ‘Ghostbusters’. Instead, the clunky ‘Pixels’ is nothing more than an updated poor man’s version of the aforementioned ‘Ghostbusters’ with little distinctive spark or imagination to accompany the empty zaniness. This latest lame and recycled Adam Sandler-led vehicle should come with the familiar message that is flashed at every conclusion of a video game: Game Over!
Every formulaic bone in the body of ‘Pixels’ is fragile because the movie really does not strive for anything sensational outside of its ambitious special effects wizardly. One can somewhat appreciate the few outlandish moments that garner a chuckle here and there but for the most part ‘Pixels’ suffers from transparent character developments that take a backseat to the incidental mayhem that persists.
The good news is that ‘Pixels’ is one of the few Sandler-branded films that one could actually stomach without resorting to the usual eye-rolling exasperation. Still, that is not saying very much nor is this what one might call a glowing endorsement neither. Screenwriters Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling manage to adequately stuff enough throwback reminders to the heyday of 80s-era frivolity regarding video game fever and the baby-boomers (and strangely enough youngsters and young adults) will probably relish the reminiscent goofiness of the period. The need to mesh the sentimental fixation of video games with the reliable foundation of disaster flicks that still reign supreme in today’s popcorn cinema scene is challenging yet ‘Pixels’ just does not have the convincing giddy-minded gumption to pull off such a free-wheeling stunt.
As many may proudly admit their hours-long odyssey into video arcades where brain cells were bombarded by exceptional gaming skills, we come across a selection of a former (and some may even say current) ‘nerd herd’ of gifted gamers that were resourceful back in the day when their fierce video game acumen was something not to mess with at all. Leading the pack of players that were previously involved in the 1982 World Videogame Championship competition is Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), a slacker that has done nothing productive with his adult life since the notable achievement of being a runner-up at the WVC competition as a child. The champ, whose title was earned at Sam’s expense, is Eddie ‘The Fire Blaster’ Plant (Peter Dinklage). Rounding out the trio is game-playing expert and conspiracy-seeking ace Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad). Oh yeah…let’s not forget their mutual friend Will Cooper (Sandler’s comedy best buddy Kevin James) who just happens to be the President of the United States. How convenient, huh?
Well, the expertise of the video-playing ‘fearsome threesome’ will come into being handy when a misinterpreted recording of a video game competition recovered in space by perturbed aliens sets off the threatening agenda for these space invaders to conquer the arrogant earthlings. After all, the taped recording ruffled the feathers of the aliens so the planet Earth needs to be challenged for the rights to claim planetary property. So the question remains: can the uninspired electronics-installing Sam, the cocky-minded Eddie and paranoid puss Ludlow defend our world and use their gaming prowess to outwit, outplay and outlast the aliens as a high stakes game is proposed for ownership of the planet?
Some may dismiss ‘Pixels’ as a serviceable, quirky comedy that has a unique spirit onto its own. It does have its inserted nuttiness at various spurts. However, the overall presentation feels utterly choppy and the whole premise about these past gaming misfits returning to their childhood glory to rescue mankind through their glorified hobby comes off as manufactured, clumsy-minded campiness. There is nothing about ‘Pixels’ that screams originality besides being a faceless ‘Ghostbusters’ knock-off but with familiar video game branding (the gigantic Pac Man-eating creature comes to mind as he tries to swallow the entire metropolitan region). This frenzy-minded fable seems strained for canned laughs.
Sandler, although not as nearly obnoxious and grating on the nerves as he is in some of his other monotonous vehicles, seems to be sleep-walking in his role as the redemptive Sam looking for that second chance to come out as victorious to undermine his otherwise mundane existence. The breath-taking Michelle Monaghan, playing Sam’s shapely military protocol pop tart of a girlfriend Violet van Patten, is on hand to remind us that even labelled ‘losers’ that like to push gaming buttons on a console can get the last laugh in coming out feeling lucky. Monaghan’s Violet being Sam’s glamorous galpal and James’s Cooper as Sam’s Commander-in-Chief pal is probably the most outlandish and funny element about ‘Pixels’ to legitimately digest at this point. Gad is a mixed bag as the oafish Ludlow often opining for his indifferent pixel princess Lady Lisa (Ashley Benson). Dinklage steals the show as Eddie, a diminutive dynamo that is big on showy confidence within his small frame.
It is safe to say that the insanely amusing Bill Murray and his crew of ghost-busting goof-offs need not to lose any sleep over over the perfunctory put-on that is Sandler and company in the slight and forgettable silliness of ‘Pixels’. One might want to save their roll of quarters and wash a load of dirty laundry as opposed to playing a do-or-die game of ‘Donkey Kong’ with these video game vagabonds.
1 hr. 45 mins.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Kevin James, Brian Cox, Matt Linz and Sean Bean
Directed by: Chris Columbus
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy/Fantasy/Video Game Action & Adventure
Critic’s Rating: * 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
Columbia Pictures, Happy Madison Productions, 1492 Pictures, LStar Capital, China Film Group Corporation, Sony Pictures by Chris Columbus, Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling, Patrick Jean.
Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage.
Genres: Action, Comedy, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Keywords: usa video game nerd alien attack 3d pixels alternative world
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