Pixels is an action comedy film about retro video games, alien invasions and stylish matching Mini Coopers. How can a recipe including those ingredients be a disaster, right? Unfortunately, Pixels is exactly that; unfunny, unoriginal and just plain uninteresting.
You know those intergalactic time capsules that NASA send into space? The ones that beam samples of human culture out into the empty void so that alien lifeforms can sit back and listen to Beethoven or Justin Bieber as they zip about preparing everything they need to invade?
Well, should NASA choose to send another probe, I suggest they include a copy of Pixels. Not because aliens would appreciate it, but because they might just think twice about ever setting foot on this place. Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad, Pixels is about a group of misfit nerds who're recruited by the US military to help combat an alien invasion that takes the form of classic arcade games (they misinterpreted one of those NASA probes as a threat. Yeah. That's the kind of plot we're working with here).
Sandler plays Brenner, an ageing IT tech support guy whose childhood was consumed with the flashing colours and bleeping sounds of arcade classics like Pac-Man, Centipede and Donkey Kong. Whilst it's a departure from his half-witted roles of the past, Sandler still sticks to the same schtick he's well-known for. He just looks bored in every single scene, making his character's enthusiasm for video games hard to buy into. He just doesn't look interest at all, as if he's just counting the days until he can cash his (presumably massive) paycheque.
Also, the script forces this unbelievably stupid love story between Sandler and Monaghan down our throats. It's not sweet or cute and I don't think anyone is ever going to believe that the latter would fall head over heels for a mumbly button-masher whom she's only just met. The first scene where they meet was one of the cringiest cringe moments I think I've ever witnessed; whilst installing her PlayStation 4 and Bravia TV (real subtle Sony, real subtle), Sandler literally turns around, sees Monaghan and says "whoa" with his mouth agape like a startled blowfish. Right in front of their 11-year-old kid too.
Anyway, back to the rest of the cast. Kevin James plays the President of the United States. And not ironically either. Like totally seriously. C'mon, the aliens thing is a stretch, but this? America isn't dumb enough to vote for someone that stupid. I mean, that'd be like electing Donald Trump for President?! Right?
Meanwhile Josh Gad just screams every line as loud and as high-pitched as physically possible. His character has this weird crush on Lady Lisa (Ashley Benson), this ninja video game character who is brought to life by the alien, and it was at this point that the film lost me completely.
Not only does Benson not say a single word in the whole film, she also literally drops everything to make out with Gad's basement-dwelling geek right in the middle of an invasion. It's like a 12-year-old boy wrote this film. Right at the end of the film, they explain her continued existence (all the other video game characters disappeared) on her being a 'trophy' that Gad gets to keep for winning the game. And then they kiss.
That kind of sloppy writing is everywhere in this film. The script backtracks on its own internal logic too; in one scene, Sandler's character explicitly states the rules for beating Centipede, one of the enemies our heroes are tasked with facing, only to skate across those facts later in the VERY SAME SCENE in order to win the battle.
The best comparison for the humour in this film I can find is The Big Bang Theory. Simple, broad and designed to make everyday people feel 'with it' when they get a reference. "Ha ha, they just referenced Star Trek. I know Star Trek. Sheldon likes Spock. Ha ha."
It might be about nerds, but this film is aimed at an audience as wide as physically possible, which essentially means naming a string of arcade games so that 30-somethings can say things like "hey, I remember playing Donkey Kong! LOL!". It's not like kids are going to get this film - they probably only care about Donkey Kong because they played Mario Kart Wii. It's not aimed at nerds either, because it spends so much time ridiculing every single nerdy character film troupe you can imagine. And yes, I'm including feverish conspiracy theorist (Gad gets the honour of doing that one).
In it's defence, Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) does a decent job behind the camera. The action is colourful and vibrant, and the much glimpsed Pac-Man sequence through the streets of New York does have one or two moments that reveal the film's lost potential.
It desperately wants to be a fun crossover between Independence Day and Wreck-It Ralph, but Pixels would've been better off keeping to its humble origins; a brief short film that knew it was stupid, but didn't overstay its welcome.
Oh, and Dinklage? You're better than this.
The Verdict: 2.5/10
With an entirely different cast and script, this film might've been half decent. But with Sandler and James front-and-centre, Pixels is an awkward, silly, dumb, boring, flashy flop that isn't worth spending your hard earned coins on. Do yourself a favour and waka waka waka away from any screen on which this film is showing. Game over.
Pixels is in cinemas across Australia now.