Directed by Chris Columbus.
Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Brian Cox, Sean Bean and Jane Krakowski.
When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games.
Sometimes you just can’t put your finger on it, no matter how hard your search. I cannot say Pixels is a good film by any stretch of the imagination and won’t tell you otherwise in this review – the directing, effects, story, characters, and acting are all well below what I usually look for from an entertaining slice of cinema, even for the summer season when expectations are lowered further with years which passes – but I can’t deny I had fun with it either.
I would even argue Pixels knows it isn’t a good film. As a ‘Happy Madison’ production it has all the depth and ‘quality’ of star Adam Sandler’s usual work, barley stretching beyond what I’d imagine was in the first draft. Director Chris Columbus was clearly brought in to handle the effects work and leave all else down to Sandler, Kevin James and Josh Gad to freestyle and ad lib in their usual comic stylings in the hope some of the gags will hit. None are particularly witty or inventive, but damn it if I wasn’t amused throughout. Its $110 million budget cannot be justified by the spectacle (or lack of) which is put up on the screen and we’ve seen every plot beat before, and the film is lazy in its writing; Kevin James is The President of The United States but that joke extends to him being a bumbling but likable fat guy who can’t read; Adam Sandler is the guy who never amounted to much and ends up saving the planet and getting the beautiful woman at the end (Michelle Monaghan in a wasted role); Josh Gad is… essentially Kevin James minus the Presidential part. The difference with Pixels is that if you’ve seen one Adam Sandler film or one alien invasion action/comedy, you know all of this before going in to see the movie – the element of surprise was never going to be amongst Pixels’ strong points – the aim here is to embrace the nonsense, or don’t bother see it at all.
In 1982 the US sent a time capsule into space with, it would seem, every single video game reference available at the time, and aliens took the message the wrong way and saw it as a declaration of war. Now an alien invasion is on and the all of the training for the world’s elite military forces are of no use whatsoever because they… can’t read the patterns of the video games from the 80s. But hold on, all is not lost! Adam Sandler and the now President are life-long best friends and Sandler’s everyman plus his buddy Josh Gad are the only people who still remember the games from their childhood with fondness and in every detail. That’s the set up out-of-the-way and if you’re not bought into Sandler walking around The Oval Office by himself or training the US Army how to read patterns by the twenty-minute mark, then this isn’t going to get any better. For me the film’s fun comes from the place of absurdity where it could have tried to take the premise seriously; the whys and hows of the plot don’t interest me, even if they did make sense. I want to see these likable guys going all over the world and killing aliens in the form of 80s video game characters.
If the nostalgia factor is what audiences are looking for, I can’t say whether or not this’ll hit the mark or not. I have no nostalgia for Mario, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Paperboy etc despite having played the games as a kid; I liked them at the time but that time has passed. It wasn’t simply seeing the characters facing off against the humans in the film which was ever going to please me, but rather the way in which the film makers utilise those characters and make them ‘real’. The spectacle is at the most basic level (Pac-Man uses the avenues of New York whilst Minis coloured the same as the game’s ghost chase him) but provides the same levels of absurdity I mentioned before. It never excites or has tension, but the film isn’t out to provide such thrills. Moreover, the film doesn’t bombard us with nostalgia in ways to make the 30+ audience members think fondly on their childhood, but (at least for me) it was an interesting take on a tired formula. It has respect for the past and also the characters which hold on to that past – these guys aren’t ‘geeks’ or ‘losers’ and that plays into the film’s charm, something missing from many blockbusters today. Pixels won’t make your life as a ten-year old any better than it was, but going to see it for that purpose is defeating what fun can be had.
What I will say for nostalgia here is that Pixels reminds us of summer movies which were made just for fun and not for much else. When I look at the roster of blockbusters made today and their intentions to make sequels and tie-ins before the first one is even released, hanging on to whatever name in the title is trademarked and audience familiarity to sell it, it makes me long for those days when Amblin released films which played by their own rules, not caring about what else is out there to copy and pander to. Pixels is whacky, silly, and will entertain those who can just enjoy it for what it is.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter