Monday, July 27, 2015


I am not an Adam Sandler fan. I think the last movie of his I can say that I legitimately enjoyed was Punch Drunk Love, and before that it was The Wedding Singer. I find his films to be absolutely painful to watch and excruciatingly unfunny no matter who writes, directs or co-stars in his cinematic abortions. So when I saw the trailer for his newest bomb in the making, Pixels, it’s safe to assume that I wasn’t immediately interested. Then I realized what it was – the feature length retelling of an innovative short film by Patrick Jean where alien invaders attack the Earth in the form of video game characters from the early 80s. Sandler’s Happy Madison group purchased the rights to it and turned it into a CGI filed vehicle for their founding member. OH, THE HUMANITY! 

But, I am a massive video game fan. I have a YouTube channel dedicated to my love of them called The Old Ass Retro Gamer for crying out loud! Regardless of my absolute distaste for everything Sandler I felt I should at least give the film a chance to not suck ass and check it out. And once the reviews began to pour in claiming that this was one of the worst films ever made I questioned my thought process, but I don’t usually follow the lemmings off the cliff. I like to make up my own mind so I saw it on opening night.
The plot mirrors the short film to a “T” in that an alien menace attacks the Earth in the guise of old school video game characters, and a select group of former gaming wunderkinds (Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage & Kevin James) are the only hope for mankind’s survival.

Well, the short film didn’t star Adam Sandler and his troupe of buffoons. It didn’t star anyone really. It was a CGI demo that was fun and nostalgic and that’s all she wrote. But a movie has to have characters to relate to and the Happy Madison crew is what we got. Funny thing is… they weren’t so bad. And the movie they were starring in… was kind of fun. Sure it was stupid and missed a lot of golden opportunities for hilarity, but I found it to be mildly entertaining on certain levels. At times it aims for the lowest common denominator since it is essentially a kid’s movie featuring a massive nostalgia bomb for adults. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have a certain charm of its own regardless of the lame bodily function jokes.
Director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Mrs. Doubtfire) is no stranger to the world of children’s films. He’s made some of the most profitable of all time regardless if they were worthy of that landslide of cash or not. Personally, I can’t stand his schmaltzy brand of filmmaking. Out of all of the films on his directorial resume I can only say that I liked Mrs. Doubtfire, and I can only watch that once every five years or so without wanting to barf. But in the case of Pixels he managed to wrangle the insanity of Adam Sandler and his crew and tried to make an actual movie out of what could have been one of his usual crass misfires. He doesn’t succeed most of the time, and sometimes he toned things down a bit too much to the point of events becoming stale and boring, but he gave it a decent try and I was able to overlook his overly sentimental tendencies.

Adam Sandler turns in his most low key performance since The Wedding Singer. Or he could have been on Quaaludes the whole time. I don’t know. All I do know was that he wasn’t screaming random shit at the top of his lungs like he usually does and I was thankful for that. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones, Knights of Badassdom, The Station Agent) plays his part of the has-been Donkey Kong champion (unsuccessfully ragging on Billy Mitchell from The King of Kong) like Adam Sandler would in that he’s loud and obnoxious every time he’s on screen.  Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer, Frozen) on the other hand is the one to watch here. His character is unstable, like Sandler usually plays, but reigns in the overacting (except in one classic scene where he yells at a group of Navy SEALS) and is a genuinely fun addition to the cast. Sure he shoehorned in a scene where he sings (thanks Olaf), but his timing is impeccable and he is given the best lines in the film. Kevin James sucks. That is all. And Michelle Monaghan is completely wasted.
But I didn’t spend my hard earned money on this flick for the director or stars. I came to see all the classic video game shenanigans. Does it actually work? Yes. It works extremely well in most cases. Pac-Man is used to great effect at the mid-point of the film for a cool chase scene with appropriately colored Mini Coopers standing in for the ghosts. Centipede was probably my favorite of the bunch as pixelated mushroom fell from the sky while Sandler and Gad shot at the various insects with light cannons. Donkey Kong was alright I guess. That scene sped by so fast that it didn’t leave much of an impression. But I will admit that Galaga and Pong/Arkanoid weren’t given time to shine. I would have loved to have seen Sandler and Co. playing a psychotic game of racquetball for Pong, but I can understand why Galaga wasn’t showcased more since it would be a repeat of the impressive Centipede scene. And while I found the usage of Q-bert as a sidekick to the heroes to be more than a little adorable (except his pissing on himself), the writers didn’t take full advantage of the character. What is the point of his game? He jumps on blocks to change their color until all the blocks on each level match. Well, there is a scene where he is jumping on a trampoline that was ripe to exploit that as a visual joke. In fact, every time he took a step it would have been funny to see the floor temporarily light up and change color like in Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” music video. The Duck Hunt dog was kind of rad too, but more screen time would have been better. All the games highlighted in the epic finale were more than welcome, from Robotron 2084, Tetris, Mario Bros. and Frogger. Nothing but nostalgia bustin’ out all over the place. It’s hit or miss, but it’s a hit for the most part.
Enough of the praises. Let’s talk about the faults. There are plenty of them. The flick is dry for long stretches when there aren’t any video gamey scenarios playing out (there are scenes that have zero energy level… most involving Kevin James), the jokes fall flat 50% of the time (except in Gad’s case since he sells them better than anyone else in the cast), no character is really developed in any sort of way outside of what we know of them from the opening flashback scene and any movie where Kevin James is the playing the POTUS is just asking for an ass whooping. For some reason I had an issue with Michelle Monaghan’s character doing all kinds of crazy gymnastics shit out of nowhere during the finale. One simple little throwaway line would have explained it, but nope. She’s flipping around like a spider monkey because why not. And the hokey “I cheated” subplot is kind of hamfisted and reeks of a Sesame Street moral thrown in for the kids. I never bought into the relationship between Sandler and Monahan as well. It’s forced and they go from disliking each other immensely to being all cuddly within the space of a scene. The same goes for the Valkyrie girl from the non-existent game Gad’s character is in love with. WTF?! What game were those little ninja characters from? The writing is uneven and the direction by Columbus isn’t all that impressive. And aside from all the cool 80s pop tunes being used the actual musical score is lackluster in the extreme.

And then there are the scathing reviews this film is receiving. Are they deserved? Not really in my opinion. Sandler has made much worse movies that haven’t been treated this harshly before. I have a sneaking suspicion that it might have something to do with the insensitive nature of his Netflix film The Ridiculous 6 and the negative publicity it attracted a couple of months back. Or it could just be his turn to be the whipping boy of Hollywood. I don’t know, but even though I had read a number of the reviews before seeing the movie I still didn’t find it completely deserving of the hate. Sure it’s a childish movie. It’s made for kids! It will certainly appeal more to them than an adult since that’s the demographic the filmmakers were aiming for. Anyone taking this flick seriously should have their critic’s membership card revoked. Pixels is way better than anything Sandler has put out over the past 10 years. Not that that would be hard, but it’s something.
I’m not apologizing for Pixels. Far from it. It is a very uneven film and isn’t nearly as clever or funny as it seems to think it is. But it’s a fun little diversion that should enthrall kids as well as people my age who actually remember sinking quarter after quarter into these classic arcade games as a kid ourselves. Critics are slinging mud because they can. Everyone in Hollywood has to be “It” at some point and its Sandler’s turn at bat. This is hardly “The Worst Movie Ever Made” as some are claiming it to be. I still say Battlefield Earth has that dishonor. It’s a mediocre film that just so happens to feature something that sets my geek heart aflutter. I had cheap fun with it and am not embarrassed to say so. Sometimes you just need a greasy cheeseburger instead of that healthy kale smoothie.

3 out of 5

P.S. I hope that the video games used in Pixels will show the youth of America that the games of the past are just as relevant and enjoyable in the present as they were back in the day. And hard as balls. Gamers are pussies nowadays.

1 comment:

  1. I would rate this post to be a very meticulous & detailed review! Pixels looks like a great smash hit from the trailer however, I can cast no real detailed judgment until I have seen it.