Movie Review: “Pixels” – Save Your Quarters

Written by Matt Butler August 14, 2015

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A little conversation with myself, prior to seeing Pixels:

“I want to see Pixels. But it looks terrible. But 80’s video games. But Adam Sandler. But Josh Gad. But Happy Madison. But Peter Dinklage. But Adam Sandler! But I already bought the ticket…”

And now we’re here.

Pixels is this summer’s new sci-fi “comedy”, starring Adam Sandler as Sam Brenner, a down-on-his-luck electronics technician and washed up arcade buff. But destiny calls when aliens, under the guise of classic 80s video game characters, threaten to destroy our world. By the request of his best friend, the president (Kevin James), Brenner is called in to lead a band of veteran gamers (Josh Gad) (Peter Dinklage) against this pixelated enemy.

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Ok, let’s get right to it. First, the casting. It makes no sense. Let’s face it, more often than not, Adam Sandler is a one-trick pony, but that one trick has gotten him through a long string of financially successful films. The trouble is, his trademark mix of passive vulgarity, minimal emotional investment and shouting, doesn’t translate well to the whole ’sci-fi hero’ character. While Brenner is busy firing lasers, leaping fireballs, narrowly escaping the pixelated jaws of a 20 foot tall Pac-Man, and so much more sci-fi wonderment, you can’t help but notice how strangely unmoved he is. This disinterested behaviour makes it harder to sympathize with Brenner, his “struggle”, and his “romance” with Violet (Michelle Monaghan).

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While we’re on the subject of casting, here’s a question, who cast Kevin James as the President of the United States? I’m sorry, but when your last big film is Paul Blart Mall Cop 2, playing the president is a bit of a stretch. And, just like Sandler, James is stuck playing himself, or rather a bumbling diet-Chris Farley version of himself. From a distance, the casting of these two together gives Pixels a dumb-fun tone, but look closely, and you can tell that neither are having any kind of fun. They look less like a pair of nostalgic geeks and more like a pair of mid-life Hollywood stars realizing the dismal state of their careers.

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The only two that seem to be experiencing any sort of enjoyment are Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage (as Ludlow Lamonsoff and Eddie ‘Fireblaster’ Plant, respectively). From the first five minutes of Gad’s performance, it seems the film might have found its saving grace, which is a truly generous phrase on my part. Gad seems to be using his off-beat improv skills to fill in for a thoughtless script, and for the time being, it’s oddly refreshing.

“You smell so nice, like the Book of Genesis”

Soon enough though, even Gad succumbs to the film’s toxic fumes of laziness, and his character is reduced to a typical one-dimensional nerd. Dinklage tries to reprise Gad’s out-of-nowhere antics, but without anyone else to bounce off of, he just sticks out like a sore thumb. Give Dinklage credit though, he really rocks that mullet.

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Next, the plot. The transitions of this movie feel like channel surfing. No scenes ever mesh together to form a flowing narrative, so what we’re stuck with is constant switching between scenes of arcade invasion and whatever Adam Sandler is doing (do we really care?). As for the action, it’s everything you’ve seen in the trailer and little more. I’d at least give Pixels credit for its imaginative visual effects, but all that credit really belongs to the short film it’s based on, which, for a youtube video that’s two and a half minutes long and more VFX demo reel than story, is far more emotionally compelling than this entire film. Just watch.

There, I just saved you an hour and forty-six minutes of crap, you’re welcome.

Pixels’ high point of annoyance though, is the writing, and its lazy reliance on convenience. Ok, so I’m about to spoil the climax of the movie, sorry, not sorry. Brenner is close to defeating Donkey Kong, the final boss of the film, when he begins to doubt himself. This stems back to when he lost the big arcade championship to Eddie Plant as a kid, while playing the same game. It’s only with the help of Matty, Violet’s son, standing at the top of the level as one of the prisoners to the invaders, who informs Brenner that Plant actually cheated at the championship, and has been cheating at video games ever since (information that he gathered after rummaging through Eddie’s car and finding a pair of sunglasses engraved with cheat codes). This means Brenner is, technically, the champion of Donkey Kong, which grants him the confidence to complete the level and save the day. Yes, it is as stupid as it sounds.

“SOMEBODY ANNIHILATE THIS STUPID THING!!!”

This means that rather than Brenner reaching some kind of arc (maybe discovering that life is full of wins and loses) the film’s resolution depends entirely upon: 1) Eddie leaving his sunglasses in his car, 2) Matty being in the same area as Eddie Plant’s car, 3) Matty knowing where Eddie’s car is, 4) Having access to his car, 5) Having motivation to enter his car, 6) Finding Eddie in order for him to give full exposition on the matter, 7) Matty being the next random person to get kidnapped by the aliens, 8) Matty knowing Brenner long enough to recognize the significance of the championship.

I know the universe is an unpredictable thing, but that is really pushing it. Not to say writing for the sake of the plot is anything new, but this film is wall-to-wall with it. It’s not even creative, it’s just lazy.

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Sorry to get all RedLetterMedia on you all, but that’s what this movie has done to me. I know, with movies like this you’re supposed to turn off your brain and just have fun, but it’s impossible to have fun when the movie you’re watching doesn’t even care enough to have fun with itself. Pixels boasts an 80s nostalgia, but lacks the energy to immerse itself in it. It just feels like Adam Sandler stealing $7 from my pocket while relentlessly shouting “REMEMBER THE 80s?!?” No, I don’t, and clearly, neither do you.

“Let the nerds take over”

But I suppose I need to accept the reality of the situation, that Pixels was made by Happy Madison, therefore it was not made to please anyone but the people who work for and invest in Happy Madison. Pixels may be a boring, contrived, unfunny, cynical mess, but for Adam Sandler, it’s another victory. For the rest of us who paid to see it, it’s GAME OVER.

Everyone else, save your quarters, watch Wreck-It Ralph, watch the Futurama episode, watch The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Just don’t watch this. Thanks for playing.

My Rating: 2/10

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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