Directed by: Chis Columbus
Premise: In the early 1980s a capsule was launched into space containing samples of the video games of that era. Aliens encounter the capsule and interpret it as a declaration of war. In response they attack the earth with digital creatures from those classic games. Middle aged gamers are enlisted to combat the alien attack.
What Works: Pixels has fared very poorly with critics, with the film scoring less than twenty percent at rottentomatoes.com. The movie is actually better than that score and its failure with critics is probably due to the casting of Adam Sandler in the lead role. Sandler’s films, which he produces through his Happy Madison production company, have never been great but at one time he did make movies that were entertaining such as Big Daddy, 50 First Dates, and Click. But starting with 2007’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry the quality of Sandler’s movies took a nosedive into meanness, misogyny and, worst of all, laziness. Since then he has churned out a series of really terrible pictures such as You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Jack and Jill, and Grown Ups and its sequel. These movies have, rightly, put Sandler in critics’ crosshairs and conditioned them to hate any project he becomes attached to. That’s precisely what has happened with Pixels. This is a better film than anything Sandler has produced and starred in recently and while it is by no means a great movie it is competently made and will entertain young viewers. The movie was directed by Chris Columbus, who has also helmed titles like Home Alone and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and he has a handle on this kind of material. The film has an inherent challenge of making silly low resolution characters into a credible threat, and the filmmakers generally accomplish that. Pixels also reiterates some of the signature Adam Sandler elements a little better than usual. A lot of Sandler’s recent output, especially the Grown Ups films, are predicated on nostalgia for the 1980s. Pixels is built on that appeal as earth is attacked by the creatures of retro-era arcade games. The moviemakers have fun with this and come up with some amusing action sequences set to a soundtrack of 1980s pop songs.
What Doesn’t: Pixels has an inherent problem. The thick nostalgia of the movie caters to late Generation X and early Millennial viewers but this is fundamentally a kid’s movie. It is very silly and at times obnoxious in the way that Adam Sandler’s sense humor tends to be. A lot of the jokes of Pixels will go over the heads of the younger viewers but they are too stupid for the older members of the audience. This is a movie that is torn between the silliness of a PG-13 Adam Sandler comedy and the more serious tone of an alien invasion film and that tension results in a lot of absurdities and inconsistencies. The action scenes are equivalent to those of a mainstream sci-fi action film but the comic bits are all over the place. The film wants the credible stakes of something like Independence Day but the heroes are cartoonish buffoons played by Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, and Peter Dinklage. It’s really in them that the movie fails. Typically in the alien invasion genre the hero is a coward or a loser who rises to the task and becomes a better version of himself. That doesn’t really happen in Pixels. Instead the movie tends to reward and congratulate the schlubs for their slovenliness. In Pixels that self-congratulation takes the same form it’s almost always taken in Adam Sandler films: a beautiful woman. This movie does it thrice over with each of the guys ending up with a disproportionally attractive woman and in two of the three cases the women are literally framed as prizes.
Bottom Line: Within the filmography of Adam Sandler Pixels is a competent movie and it recalls some of his earlier family-friendly successes like Click. But the movie has been made in such a way that it short circuits its appeal and Pixels suffers from some of the predictable flaws of virtually every Happy Madison production.
Episode: #554 (August 9, 2015)