“A highly-pixelated and overbearing alien invasion movie.”
After 2010’s mega-blockbuster hit Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, director Chris Columbus returns to the big screen with an exhilarating comedy-adventure film featuring Adam Sandler and his wacky cohorts. Based on a 2010 short film of the same name by French director Patrick Jean, Pixels is about an alien invasion attempt on Earth using retro videogames.
The film opens with an arcade tournament game among young champions in 1982. The emcee announces that the games will be videotaped and launched by NASA into outer space. The capsule also contains other examples of Earth’s pop culture.
Presently, an alien life intercepts the tape and interprets it to be a military threat and declaration of war. Immediately, gigantic and nasty versions of the game characters begin to attack Earth. After glowing cubes based on “Galaga” designs rain down on Guam, “Arkanoid” paddles pound India’s Taj Mahal. The aliens take a soldier and an Indian locale as trophies for their victories.
US President Will Cooper (Kevin James), learning that the attack is a three-out-of-five contest, enlist the help of old school gamers to stop the invading force. Sam Brenner (Sandler), President Cooper’s childhood best friend, was a young gaming wonder who lost the championship when he placed second at Donkey Kong in the aforementioned tournament. Losing his dream, he grew up a sad-sack loser. Now is his time to redeem himself. Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), another childhood friend and competitor who is insanely obsessed with Lady Lisa, heroine of “Dojo Quest,”, also joins the hero squad. And of course, Eddie “The Fireblaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage), the one who beat Sam at Donkey Kong, includes himself in the party in exchange for a Serena Williams–Martha Stewart sandwich among other conditions. Behind their game plans is Lt. Col. Violet van Patten (Michelle Monaghan) who creates the light-beam weapon to be used against the invaders.
The game then takes place in London’s Hyde Park where the “Centipede” gives a hard time to the forces of a British commando leader (Sean Bean) and a US admiral (Brian Cox). Later, the grid-like streets of New York City become the site of a “Pac-Man” game. However, The Fireblaster has a secret that may change the course of the final game.
Pixels has a very promising central idea and the prior previews give one high hopes and anticipation. In terms of the videogame part, the film fairly succeeds as it converts well loved 8-bit arcade icons into large-pixel state-of-the-art characters. It looks grand and breathtaking as these large stylish figures wreck havoc among some of the known landmarks in the planet. For certain age groups, the film brings nostalgia and fond memories of the bygone days. For the younger generation, it is also a glimpse of how crude and simplistic arcade games were. They might find “Frogger”, “Duck Hunt” dog and especially “Q*bert” to be cute and adorable. They might even be swept by the beat of “We Will Rock You” as Sam fights “Donkey Kong.”
However, the film only excels there. Featuring jackasses and idiots with gross humor, the plot is shallow and the script is nonsensical. Except for some good laughs, the comedy is generally arrogant, its jokes old or unappealing. Most characters are also annoying, especially near-moron Pres. Cooper and his friends. Such characters are outrageous and incredulous. It’s hard to root for the heroes, even cheer for them as they battle the arcade menace. Unlike their enemies, they are too one-dimensional, though the film attempts to add family or aspiration factors to them.
Sandler seems to be a declining comedy actor. As Sam who is a man-child character who refuses to be perceived as overweight, he is insufferable and overbearing. Both James and Gad are loud and empty. Monaghan, though committed and eye-pleasing, is a sorry talent in this testosterone-filled movie. It seems only Dinklage, with his swag and brag, provides the real laugh and fun.
With its promising premise, Pixels is a big disappointment. It is a wasted concept on some cheap comedy. It has neither solid narrative nor lovable hero figures. Thanks to Centipede, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong for making the film more watchable than it should be.