Review by Matthew Lowe
When you familiarise yourself with some of the statistics published by Global Issues, such as the fact at least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day and over a billion people are unable to read, it’s even harder to take the fact Jack and Jill grossed over $149 million worldwide and Paul Blart: Mall Cop grossed over $183 million.
Imagine a reality where Kevin James is President of the Free World, and his closest advisor and best friend is Adam Sandler, and you have Pixels, a sci-fi comedy with a budget of approximately $88 million.
Without presupposing the work of some Faustian pack, the continued success of Sandler is frankly inexplicable. That the universe seems karmically skewered in his –and no less Kevin James’- direction while world issues rage on may be an argument for atheism. To be fair, there are times when Sandler’s half-assed slacker shtick actually works. The Wedding Singer is a very endearing rom-com. And he actually brought some pathos to and managed not to screw up Punch Drunk Love.
Those are exceptions, because here, as more often than not, his shtick is tired and witless; his shitty non-acting is an insult to the eons of out-of-work actors who would be happy just for a pay cheque.
In defence of Kevin James, you can at least say that he tries. Unfortunately, the height of his comic finesse is ‘I’m fat, so it’s funny’, and his performance never moves beyond its one-note premise.
For Pixels it took four writers to come up with a plot that makes little discernible sense. The gist of it is: in 1982, a video of assorted pop culture footage was blasted into space, among it, footage of young Sandler and co playing arcade games. A few decades later, an alien race that sends antagonistic messages to earth via manipulated footage of ‘80’s celebrities, views the brief footage and interprets the arcade games as acts of war. Their reaction is to retaliate with real-life simulations of old arcade games, i.e. Pacman and Space Invaders, which materialise inexplicably in thin air and attempt to decimate the humans before disappearing again.
For reasons that go unexplained, the invisible alien race will leave us alone if Adam Sandler can win Donkey Kong.
Mostly, it’s all a ploy for ’80’s nostalgia and brainless action set pieces. But the reality of a giant killer Pacman chasing after Adam Sandler isn’t as satisfying as it sounds on paper. And if you were feeling nostalgic for ‘80’s video games, you’d be better off watching The Wizard or hitting eBay for a Sega Master System console.
The highlight, if any, is probably Peter Dinklage as one of Sandler and James’ childhood gaming rivals. He may be working from the same crappy script as everyone else, but because he is a genuinely talented actor, he milks it for all it’s worth and generates the few genuine chuckles to be had.
Some may find Pixels to be decent popcorn fodder, even if you’ll completely forget about it afterwards. Kids might have fun with this, and even though most of the pop references are going to go over their heads, you could properly do worse if you were looking for a somewhat harmless family movie. The rest of you might want to consider eyeing a donation box instead.