By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
When considering Pixels was originally an animated short by Patrick Jean and the movie of the same name was re-conceived by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, the only person to blame for this travesty on the big screen is simply in the fact that Adam Sandler‘s production company is involved, he’s one of the many producers calling the shots, and he is starring in it. Couldn’t someone else star as the hero?
Sandler’s trademark lowbrow sense of humour is not popular anymore. When you tune him out, and mentally filter out his scenes, there’s a germ of a good idea that director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter, Home Alone) is trying to bring forth. That’s not necessarily with conjuring forth feelings of nostalgia for the 80’s, the decade when arcade games was popular.
The Gen X’ers who grew up plunking down quarters to their favourite coin-op will want to see if their game is spotlighted. The one game that accurately describes this film is Space Invaders and this movie does a reasonable job of showing most but not all the popular games of that time. More than a few games are missed, namely Missile Command, Berzerk, Phoenix and Tempest. If there was a longer edit of this film where those games were featured, they ended up on the cutting room floor.
Also missing is a suitable explanation of how Will Cooper (Kevin James) became the President of the United States. When considering he was buds with Sam Brenner (Sandler) in their childhood and both seem to have the same intelligence quotient of a hamster, that’s amazing. When he gets mocked by the media for not being brighter than the girl scouts he read for (technically, the scene had him in an elementary school), just how he got into office must be questioned.
Even the bonus scene just before the credits needs scrutiny. It’s scarier than Ben Stiller‘s post-credit sequence in Dodgeball. This lapse in logic and good taste in the screenplay does not help this movie much. Although it sets a few characters up as more than odd, the lamentable part of the story has to deal with the invention of a new game for the sake of crafting some character development for Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), the third member of Brenner’s team who has to save the planet.
The reason most likely boils down to which characters Columbia Pictures could negotiate rights to. Missing in the invasion force is the Street Fighter II gang. Had Capcom allowed the use of these trademarked characters, Lamonsoff would have had a crush on Chun-Li or even Cammy instead of Lady Lisa, a sword welding warrior from Dojo Quest.
In a story that’s basically about thwarting invading aliens (who mistook a video transmission as a declaration of war), this film does have a moment which two classic games look refreshingly new in this ‘update.’ Some people are okay with updates of old classics when done right. To reimagine Centipede in Super Mario 64 type 3D world may get some folks wanting to play this game again. If it can be made as a different kind of shooter using the Unreal Engine, some folks will want to play it. Re-imagining Pac-Man is more problematical. Not everyone will be open to how this beloved game is changed around. That also includes what this film’s basic premise, which is basically Independence Day retrofitted with a video game theme.
If someone else was cast in the lead role than Sandler and some other production house was involved, then just maybe some people would not be so critical about this movie. The only spot on role is with Peter Dinklage who plays a despicable Eddie Plant. He’s Brenner’s nemesis. When they were younger, they had a Donkey Kong face-off to determine the winner of a tournament. When Plant won, Brenner found himself never able to live up to his true potential. While Cooper has gone on to being the first family, Sandler’s character winds up working a dead-end job. The hero is supposed to discover self-worth and this concept does not get hammered home in Sandler’s performance. Columbus’ love letter to retro gaming overshadows the human drama, and that’s a glitch that can easily be fixed if only the scriptwriters knew what to focus on in time.
2½ Stars out of 5