Review: Pixels, and how Adam Sandler is barely hitting the bar


Wondering what Pixels is all about? Imagine Ghostbusters, only with popular '80s video game characters instead of ghosts, Adam Sandler instead of Bill Murray, and absolutely zero sense of anarchic gonzo inspiration. Now imagine the whole thing assembled by lazy, sloppy people. That's what Pixels is all about.

And yet, I kind of enjoyed it. Well, some of it. I laughed a few times, though some of the laughter was at the contrivances of the screenplay and not the jokes. Despite its many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many flaws, Pixels is considerably better than Adam Sandler's last few movies.

I was a fan of Sandler during his Saturday Night Live days. He was a likable, funny kid. Then he left the show and started cranking out infantile comedies and I resented watching him waste his talent. I kept tromping to the theater, though – part of the job – and damned if he didn't win me back with the stupid-sweet Big Daddy.

Following a string of okay comedies, and a few effective dramas, the quality level of Sandler's movies started dropping back off, leading to Jack and Jill, one of the screechiest, most annoying films I have ever seen. So when I say I kind of enjoyed Pixels, that's the curve I'm grading it on.

The story: Back in the '80s, NASA included some footage of a video game tournament in a ship they shot into space in the hope of contacting intelligent life. Aliens find the footage, mistake the video game clips as a declaration of war, and head for Earth to do battle. They unleash gigantic 3D versions of games like Galaga, Centipede, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong.

To save the world, the old video tournament gang from the '80s is reunited. Sam (Sandler), now a sad-sack techie; his best pal Will Cooper (Kevin James), currently the president of the United States of America; Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), a perennial hanger-on and Eddie "The Fire Blaster" Plant (Peter Dinklage), formerly Sam's nemesis and currently a convict. Joining them is Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), who underlines the Ghostbusters connection when she prepares for a major confrontation with the words, "See you on the other side!"

Chris Columbus (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Home Alone) directs, from a story by ... oh, who cares? Better we should talk about Kevin James playing the president of the United States of America. Many unlikely actors have taken on the role of commander-in-chief, but James manages to be the least convincing yet. Comedy could have been mined by contrasting the dignity of the office with the character's goofball youth, but James doesn't even nod in the direction of dignity. He simply acts like the same schlubby guy he usually plays.

Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage also make interesting acting choices. Gad opts to play his character as borderline deranged, while Dinklage turns his obnoxious character up to 11 and leaves him there. Adam Sandler tones down the kid stuff and serves well enough as the leader of the group.

As for the whole alien invasion video game thing, suffice to say the film stays visually busy. The story here is disjointed, but it drew me in enough that I didn't study the special effects, so that's something. The bottom line is this: Pixels is as sloppy and lazy as most Adam Sandler comedies, but there's fun to be had for those willing to overlook its flaws, of which there are many. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Review: Pixels

showing: Friday in wide-release

Rated: PG-13, 2.5 stars


Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.

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