UK Release Date: August 12
Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage & Michelle Monaghan
Review by Chris Olson
Given the movie back catalogue of a director like Chris Columbus (Harry Potter 1 and 2, Home Alone 1 and 2, Mrs Doubtfire), and the seductive premise of an intergalactic war ignited from vintage arcade games like PacMan and Space Invaders, one could be forgiven for getting their hopes up for this latest cannon fodder film Pixels, that takes the “joy” out of “joystick”. The sad reality is that Sandler strikes again with another comedy misfire.
Video games rarely get a worthy depiction on the silver screen, perhaps due to the incompatible translation of narrative devices, but more often it seems that studios rarely capture the essence of what makes them so appealing - ultimate escapism. This latest outing starring Adam Sandler as a legendary arcade machine gamer and Kevin James as a buffoonish president of the USA, not only fails to capture the essence of vintage gaming, it is hilariously unfunny.
The plot revolves around a time capsule which was sent into space during the 1980s which contained footage from a video game competition. Aliens intercepted the message and decided this was a declaration of war. The aliens then come to earth and use the video games, and other 80’s references, in order to challenge the human race to a series of battles which will decide the fate of humanity. After quickly deciding all of his security forces, marines, and government agencies are useless, James’ character calls upon a glorified cable guy (Sandler) to reignite his passion and immense video game skills to save the day...and the planet.
Joining him are Ludlow (Josh Gad) and Eddie (Peter Dinklage) - fellow gamers who, along with Sandler, were all at the original video game competition which started this whole mess, as well as Violet (Michelle Monaghan) a Whitehouse advisor, who will take on the aliens in the battles that are all based around video games.
From the outset audiences can leave their brains at home, this is no place to start thinking about what’s going on. Little time, or effort, is dedicated to making a coherent plot, and the characters are about as deep as a nickel. Some throwaway scenes are blended in with some Sandler mumbling and cheap lines before we get to the action sequences, which, to be fair, are pretty spectacular. Endlessly colourful and vibrant, the battle sequences that bring chaos and destruction to major capital cities are easily the best thing about Pixels, unleashing a ton of CGI fun that will have younger viewers entranced. The difficulty comes in the “cut scenes” in which we are tortured with infantile gags, shallow characters and subplots which make no sense - such as Violet’s divorce which has no effect on her, or Ludlow’s cyber-crush which gets given some screen time later, much to the detriment of the film.
Peter Dinklage seems to be having fun throughout, and his arrogant Arcader is certainly watchable, and Brian Cox delivers a bomb-them-first council member that adds some chuckles, but for the most part all actors on screen are playing second fiddle to their animated counterparts. Q*bert turns up at one point and pretty much steals every scene without even trying!
This feels like a film which had a lot of potential, but was squandered through lack of attention with the script and letting bigger name actors into a movie that could easily have been done with lesser known talent. Columbus, known for delivering childhood charm and epic fantasy escapism, can barely be found through all the irksome clatter made, not by the games, but by the failing cast that struggle to make one decent “cut scene”.
Aside from the huge spectacle of the action sequences and some moments of humour from the supporting cast, Pixels is not the electrifying addition to the gaming genre we all hoped for, instead tripping over itself all the way to a calamitous ending. Someone should have pulled the plug earlier...