“Let the nerds take over.”
Pixels is the kind of movie that, for the sake of moviegoers everywhere, needs to be hated. The Adam Sandler brand needs to become as uncool and unhip as wearing Abercrombie & Fitch. Maybe then he’ll trade in his oversized shirts and shorts and learn some sophistication. Not that it’s all his fault. Everyone involved with this movie, from the director on down, brims with obvious talent that we’ve sparingly caught glimpses of. It’s all hiding behind a facade, and despite his own misguided intentions, Sandler is the smuggly grinning face of Pixels. There is nothing to this movie. Little if anything happens. The threats never feel real. Pixels is what we have become accustomed to expect out of a Sandler movie: sexist, unfunny, cruel, and bitterly insincere. He better be ready to jump off the high dive of success, because this here is another belly flop.
Brenner (Adam Sandler) is a grown man working for this movie’s version of the tech company Geek Squad, simply and offensively called Nerd. He’s content installing flat screens and home theaters. But as his friends remind him, one of whom is the President (Kevin James…yes, seriously, let that soak in) Brenner is meant for more. As the runner-up in 1982’s inaugural arcade game championships, Brenner has always just known how to win. There’s a subplot with footage of the championship being sent into space by NASA to contact extraterrestrial life. Flash forward to present day and the video was taken as hostile messages of war. The aliens come in the form of the inspired classic games, we get three lives, and as is normally the case in Hollywood, it’s up to a group of imbeciles to save the planet from extinction.
Although his filmography has definitely taken a hit lately, it’s still safe to say that Chris Columbus is a good director. He’s just working off of awful material. Pixels doesn’t work as a movie because there is no story. Everything revolves around Brenner proving himself, his masculinity and his worth. You know what that sacrifices? Answer: everything else. Even more infuriating is the squandered promise of the plot. This is a high concept idea with fantastic 3D renderings of once two-dimensional characters. I hoped Pixels would be good. Not just for Sandler, an actor I greatly admire but wish would grow up, but because original stories are rarely greenlit. This is based on a 2 minute long animated short from 5 years ago. The premise showed potential. It gives a framework that could have, and should have, resulted in a fine piece of family entertainment. Except it all feels like we’re watching the world’s absolute worst Tetris player. Pixels doesn’t know how to build.
The movie also doesn’t know its viewers. You can’t market a movie this steeped in nostalgia, with a cast of 40 somethings, to a young audience. It won’t work. Kids don’t know these game characters outside of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. They won’t get references to the “old Madonna” or Wendy’s past slogan, “Where’s the beef?” We can’t care about what we don’t know. To make matters worse is the movie’s rating. This is PG affair taken to the PG-13 level with some pretty lewd commentary. The most deflating example of which is the slimeball Eddie (a stale Peter Dinklage) looking up and down at military woman Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), calling her “Lieutenant Long Legs.” Men in this story are rewarded for their harrowing acts of courage by a floundering and flimsy female falling into their arms (and in one case, she’s an animated alien).
Pixels is quick though, and the pace will send many of these points right over some people’s heads. I can’t go on much longer about this though. So let me lay out one scene that shows the entire movie’s hand. Violet is gripping on for dear life, about to be barrel smashed by Donkey Kong and wiped from the face of the earth. She’s in peril. Brenner stands close by, safe and sound, wielding the game’s enlarged mallet. “Grab onto my mighty hammer!” he proclimates, in as sexual a way as possibly. This is rated to be safe for a 13-year-old, yet an almost 50-year-old man still gets his kicks off of making a video game prop into a phallic symbol. The movie ends with the beloved Q-Bert transforming into Lady Lisa from Dojo Quest for Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), who one year later has a crib full of baby Q-Berts. Who cares if “she’s” an alien. As long as she has all of the right working parts and was wowed by the man’s effort to save the day, any woman can happily have her sword pulled from her stone. The best thing I can say about Pixels is that it isn’t the worst movie of the year. Sadly, the guys in this movie would probably find that reason to brag.
“Isn’t that kind of demeaning?”
Rating: 1 out of 5