Take a Drink: every time someone is turned into pixels and beamed up.
Take a Drink: whenever Eddie puts on his sunglasses.
Take a Drink: for every celebrity cameo.
Take a Drink: when you hope two of those celebrities got paid a lot.
Take a Drink: anytime a character refers to himself as a “nerd.”
Take a Drink: at every mention of Lady Lisa.
Take a Drink: at every pop culture reference that is supposed to be from 1982 but isn’t.
Take a Drink: whenever Jane Krakowski is onscreen (and underused).
Do a Shot: every time a trophy is awarded. Take Two: when it is to a woman.
Chug Until You Pass Out: when you begin to feel your childhood die.
By: BabyRuth (Six Pack) –
So here I am, sitting in front of a blank computer screen, trying to figure out how to put my thoughts on Pixels into words to properly convey to you what a dismal, worthless, waste of time this movie is. This should come as no surprise as by now you surely have heard about its putridness. You may, though, for whatever masochistic reason, still be holding out hope that it isn’t as bad as many are making it out to be. Maybe it’s just one of those silly, don’t have to think too much, summer popcorn flicks that critics hate but audiences enjoy. Maybe you’re a child of the 80s and that same yearning for nostalgia that makes you drop $50 at Dave & Busters is clouding your judgement enough to make you think that this movie might just be harmless fun.
I was hoping all of those things too. I went into my screening of Pixels with a little less of a sense of dread than most other Happy Madison offerings. It had some stuff going for it: an interesting concept (based on the popular short of the same name) of aliens misunderstanding old feeds of video games as a threat of war and using those games against Earth; the trailer looked like it had some pretty cool special effects; and Chris Columbus (Home Alone, the first two Harry Potter films, and my personal favorite, Adventures in Babysitting) was the director. Plus, things went pretty well the last time Adam Sandler was involved in an 80s throwback. With all these things in place, how bad could it possibly be?
Turns out, pretty fucking awful.
Next-level awful. Not Grown Ups awful. Not Madea awful. Much, much worse. This is serious. We’re talking Movie 43 awful here, folks, and I do not throw that cinematic diarrhea-clogged toilet around lightly.
Let’s get the plot synopsis out of the way. We begin in the year 1982, a simpler time before iPhones, Xboxes, and Taylor Swift Twitter feuds. Three young friends, Sam Brenner (Anthony Ippolito), Will Cooper (Jared Riley), and Ludlow Lamonsoff (Jacob Shinder) are super psyched about the opening of an arcade in town. They fall in love with Pac Man, Donkey Kong, and Ludlow quite literally falls in love with the character Lady Lisa.
Sam quickly becomes a local legend, having a knack for deciphering the games’ patterns and breaking all the high score records. He enters the Worldwide Video Arcade Championship competition which is such a big deal that footage of it is being included in a time capsule of the year’s cultural events and sent into space. Unfortunately, Sam only comes in second place, bested by hotshot Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Andrew Bambridge).
The defeat sets the course for the rest of his life. Once filled with dreams of attending MIT and becoming a millionaire, adult Sam (Adam Sandler) is divorced and works a dead-end job in tech support for
Geek Squad Nerd-something. Cooper (Kevin James) fared much better. He somehow, I repeat, somehow, got elected President of the United States of America (insert groan at the idea of President Paul Blart). Ludlow (Josh Gad) became a paranoid conspiracy theorist who lives in his grandmother’s basement and still holds a torch for Lady Lisa despite being a forty-something grown man (not so hard to believe as comment sections have proven there are many real-life Ludlows out there).
Sam and Will are still best friends and hang out often, just now with the Secret Service close by. So, naturally Sam is the first person Will calls when the world is attacked by aliens using strangely familiar means, Galaga to be exact. Seems our attackers found that NASA time capsule floating around and misinterpreted it as declaration of war, using those video games to destroy Earth. These jokester aliens don’t simply want to annihilate us, though, that would be too easy. Instead, they want to play the games against us, even generously giving us three lives before it’s game over for good. Soon the old gang, plus Eddie (Peter Dinklage), are working alongside defense forces led by obligatory love interest Lt. Colonel Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan) to save the world.
The flashback prelude is well done and the Worldwide Video Arcade Championship scenes are reminiscent of 1989’s The Wizard. Remember that ridiculous movie? With Fred Savage? Oh and little Jenny Lewis before she was an indie-rock darling? Oh, oh! And the Power Glove kid! Whatever happened to him?
Oh shit. Sorry I just ruined that movie for you.
Okay, getting back, things to toast…
There’s Peter Dinklage’s mullet! Yeah, I’ll go with that.
This is my next tattoo.
What a wasted opportunity this movie is. With its high-concept premise and seemingly limitless budget, it could have been a thrill-ride of a good time, but instead it fails on every level.
The action scenes, though visually-impressive (a rare instance in which clearly fake-looking CGI works due to the material), fall flat and most are actually boring. Seeing it in 3D (which I did) doesn’t add much.
None of the jokes hit, though Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage try their damndest (the same can’t be said for Sandler). I take that back. There’s one moment that made me laugh, a throwaway line delivered late in the movie by an unnamed character.
The romantic subplot is unnecessary and Sandler and Monaghan have so little chemistry they make Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in 50 Shades of Grey look like Tracy and Hepburn by comparison.
When I say this movie screws up everything, I do mean every last thing. Nothing is consistent. Nothing makes any sense. Rules are established and then almost immediately broken. The aliens don’t understand these are just games, but then they do enough to give us three lives and trophies. All of the video game characters are made up of pixels, until one inexplicably becomes human and another urinates (hi-larious!). Also, how exactly does one use arcade game cheat codes in a real-life situation?
Up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right–B-A doesn’t do a damn thing at the ATM.
Even little details like chronology that a simple two-minute Wikipedia fact-checking session could have solved are screwed up. The aliens send Earth messages using our own footage which was supposedly from the year 1982, yet nearly every reference is from later in the decade (“Like a Virgin” era Madonna, Max Headroom, “Where’s the Beef?”). Most young viewers won’t notice these inaccuracies, but to anyone who grew up in the 80s (the intended audience, at least I think?) it’s glaring. I audibly squeaked out a “whaat?!” when one of the characters in 1982 mentioned Samantha Fox (who would have been sixteen years old and four years away from becoming a household name at the time). Did no one involved in the production of this movie notice these things? Why bother even using a year as a timestamp if you can’t get one freaking reference right? Or why not just use a later year?
For those not familiar with the genius and elegance of Samantha Fox, here you go. (This is from 1988 by the way)
What happened to Adam Sandler? He used to be fun (and funny) to watch, but for the last couple decades, give or take a Punch Drunk Love here or there, most of his characters have morphed into the same dead-eyed jerk who dryly spouts off nasty and sarcastic insults, yet we’re still supposed to buy him as a lovable schmuck who wins the day and the girl in the end. He phones in yet another variation of the character here and is so unlikable I was rooting for Donkey Kong’s barrels. Is he depressed or just so bored with his piles of money that he hasn’t two fucks left to give?
Come back to us Billy Madison!
It’s needless to point out that women are treated like crap in this movie, but I’ll do it anyway. Nearly all only exist as figurative, and in one case, literal trophies for the men to win. Even when Monaghan’s character, a high-ranking military defense leader, finally gets a chance to display a little badassness in the climactic set-piece it’s too little, too late, and feels like an afterthought. Don’t be fooled, she’s really only there to verbally spar with and eventually fall for Sandler’s character so he’ll have someone to kiss after he saves the world.
She makes out far better than poor Ashley Bensen though as Ludlow’s fantasy come to life (I’d bet cash money one of the screenwriters has multiple volumes of Lara Croft fan fiction stashed away somewhere). Ludlow is certifiably insane, lacks a single redeeming quality, and even attempts to use chloroform on someone (family fun!) but sure, let’s contradict the logic of the whole movie so he can get the girl of his dreams because he really, really wants her.
But the worst offense toward a woman in Pixels is the casting of Jane Krakowski, who plays the First Lady, and is utterly wasted. What in the actual hell? You get a talented, comedically-skilled, multiple Emmy award-winning actress and make her play arm-candy for motherfuckin’ Paul Blart? Her entire role consists of walking and standing next to James while smiling and/or laughing and/or looking lovingly at him. She barely gets one line of dialogue and it’s not even a joke.
I’m still trying to figure out who this movie is supposed to be for. I’m guessing Sandler, Columbus, and the writers were hoping it was going to be one of those fun-for-the-whole-family films that reaches multiple generations in different ways –fun action and poopy jokes for the kiddies and “Ooh, I remember that!” nostalgia for the adults. But once again, if fails on both fronts. I can’t even say its heart is in the right place, because there is no heart to be found. This movie is a soulless, lazy, cash-grab.
If you are looking for a fun and heartwarming tribute to 1980s arcade games, watch Wreck It Ralph.