Well, it’s been another year so it’s time for another lazy Adam Sandler comedy. This time it seemed as though the Sand-man’s new brain fart might actually have some promise. Based on a short film by the same name, it’s a high-concept action/sci-fi/comedy about classic 80s arcade characters attacking the world with only a handful of former arcade champions capable of stopping them. Even though it rips off a superior short film and old Futurama episode, Pixels still at least sounded semi-clever and had the right elements to be a Sandler loser/comedy equivalent of Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, expecting anything other than the lowest common denominator garbage from the Happy Madison crew is always a mistake. This flick is absolutely horrible, failing to deliver any of the fun or even comedy in the premise. Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves (except for Peter Dinklage, that guy is alright).
So, things kick off in an 80s flashback as we see a few teens compete in a massive arcade competition. For some reason, footage of the tournament is shot into space in a time capsule. Years later, aliens who received that message consider it an act of war attack earth using vintage arcade characters (don’t bother wondering why, there’s no real explanation offered, logical or otherwise). Sandler was an arcade prodigy back in that prologue, but now he’s a middle aged burn out in the Adam Sandler way. His best friend, Kevin James, became president somehow (again don’t ask, it won’t be explained), so he seeks Sandler’s help once he realizes the attacks are based on 80s arcade games. Eventually, Josh Gad joins the team as another geek, Peter Dinklage shows up as a former arcade rival, essentially playing Billy Mitchell from King of Kong, and Michelle Monaghan appears because no Sandler movie would be complete without a trophy love interest. Once all of those semi-funny people are together, it’s time for some semi-funny jokes and expensive 80s gaming action silliness.
Over the last five years, the once amusing Sandler has become quite possibly the laziest person in Hollywood. His movies all stick to the same rigid formula that presents the Sand-man as an underachieving nice guy who just needs one triumph to find love and acceptance. Pixels sticks to that nonsense so rigidly that Sandler barely even seems present. It’s impressive that they were even able to get him to stand upright during some scenes given how completely detached he seems to be from the movie. Clearly that disinterest carried over to the screenplay, which trots out a series of puns and poorly constructed one-liners in favour of jokes, and features ridiculously convenient plot twists as opposed to any sense of story structure. It’s almost insulting to watch the film. If Sandler had popped up on screen at one point and said, “We didn’t bother shooting the next scene because we wanted to go home early that day, so just deal with it you morons. Who gives a shit anyways?” I wouldn’t have been remotely surprised.
The rest of the cast seem equally uninspired, though to be fair, they don’t really have characters to play as much as a single personality trait stretched into a running gag. The only actor remotely enjoyable or memorable is Peter Dinklage as a raging ego and mullet. He’s hysterical and completely committed to the character to such a degree that you can’t help but be saddened by the fact that this was the best movie role the immensely talented actor was offered last year. He deserves better, and quite frankly, so does everyone else involved. That extends to director Chris Columbus, a man who has made some genuinely iconic movies like Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Adventures in Babysitting. He’s had a rough run of bombs lately, but seemed like an interesting choice to helm this one, since it had the scale to actually feel like a movie as opposed to Sandler’s typically flat timewasters directed by his beer buddies. Aside from shots being framed slightly better than typical Happy Madison movies, Columbus clearly had little involvement with the dialogue scenes. He admittedly stages a couple of fun video game attack sequences, but given that none of the characters involved in the action are worth caring about, it’s hard to feel any sense of suspense or elation.
Even by the exceedingly low standards of Adam Sandler, Pixels is an absolutely god-awful trainwreck of a movie that wastes a fun concept and a talented cast. Not only is it unfunny, predictable, and tedious, but it seems to have been made with absolutely contempt for the audience. The fact that anyone involved could possibly think viewers wouldn’t see through the tiresome jokes, lazy story construction, and stolen ideas is unsettling. Aside from a few fun action scenes and Dinklage, this might actually be a new low-point from Adam Sandler, which is remarkable considering the fact that he made Jack and Jill. If the concept appeals to you at all, just check out the original short film on YouTube. The effects are just as good as this Hollywood version and you won’t have to sit through any of the 90 minutes of garbage surrounding it. Since so much more money was spent on this flick than the usual Sandler hogwash, we can only hope that it will bomb badly enough for him to worry about his career. There’s no excuse for this degree of apathy and audience contempt from Sandler. Making his movie successful would only be encouraging him. Don’t even consider it.