Mark Reviews Movies

Pixels

PIXELS

1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Adam Sandler, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Matt Lintz, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Jane Krakowski

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some language and suggestive comments)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 7/24/15


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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 23, 2015

Some people blame video games for a good number of society's woes. Whether they're right or wrong and to whatever degree they're right or wrong, video games can now reasonably be blamed for Pixels, a big-budget comedy that shows off its budget fairly well but fails in just about every other arena.

We can kind of sense what the movie might be trying to do. It takes the broad outline of a Hollywood movie about an alien invasion or a massive disaster, and then it makes the threat a bunch of video game characters from the 1980s. We get the high-ranking characters who don't know what they're doing, the average or slightly-less-influential characters who are the only ones able to save the day, and plenty of widespread destruction across the globe and, in particular, throughout major metropolitan areas in the United States. The only difference is that most of the major characters are played by comedic actors who are doing their own thing while the world disintegrates into pixelated blocks.

The quality of those actors is vital for this concept to have any chance of succeeding. The movie gives us Adam Sandler as the childhood runner-up in a video game competition who now does nothing of importance with his life (Since he spent his childhood playing arcade games, it's not like he ever really did, but that's a debate for another time), Josh Gad as the conspiracy-minded and terrifyingly anti-social former "wonderkid" of the game-playing world, and Kevin James as the President of the United States.

I'm not trying to say that any of these actors is inherently bad (Ok, maybe I'm kind of suggesting it, even though it's more a matter of career choices, but that's yet another debate for a different time). In the context of what they bring to the table in this movie, the statement "and Kevin James as the President of the United States" is the funniest thing about these actors' presence here.

Sandler plays Sam Brenner, who now installs electronics for a living. His eventual romantic interest is Violet van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), who somehow falls for his charms despite the facts: He's a jerk with absolutely no ambition, while she is a professional military woman who looks like Michelle Monaghan.

Anyway, the video-game aliens invade, believing that a VHS tape of a video game competition shot into space by NASA was a declaration of war. The invaders have set the rules: The teams—the aliens and the inhabitants of Earth—receive three "lives" each, and the first team to win three games of the aliens' choosing wins the planet.

Violet and her team at DARPA create concentrated-light weapons to fight off the alien invaders (and, at some point in the chaos and confusion of an alien invasion, make the elaborately decorated coverall uniforms that the "Arcaders" wear). Sam recruits the rest of the team: Ludlow Lamonsoff (Gad), who smells Violet when he meets her, and Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage), who defeated Sam in the competition. James' Will Cooper, being the President of the United States, provides moral and political support.

There's not much to Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling's screenplay (loosely based on a short movie by Patrick Jean). In between the big setpieces, there are the broad strokes of plot, which mainly exist to get two or three of the main characters together to bicker randomly and behave strangely. No one seems to care that Earth is in danger.

Not one of the lead male characters here is appealing in any way, since they're all excessively awkward (beyond parody involving a stereotype and into the realm of wanting to get away from them as quickly as possible), self-inflated (The movie tries to make us believe that their skills at playing video games somehow translate into them serving as action heroes who can expertly shoot, drive, and maneuver), and sometimes downright creepy. Dinklage is at least having fun with his role, although that still means we're dealing with this movie's concept of "fun." Monaghan is, well, slumming it here, but if she believes that, she's too professional to show it.

The large-scale "game" sequences are the closest the movie comes to any sort of inspiration, but even those are too conventionally staged by director Chris Columbus to explore any genuine creativity. A cat-and-mouse game with Pac-Man through the streets of New York City is little more than a car chase, and the final battle is just generic run-and-shoot stuff with some jumping over ape-tossed barrels thrown into the mix. Pixels takes a potentially fun idea and runs it straight into the ground.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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