Pixels and all the images you see in this review are owned by Columbia Pictures
Directed by Chris Columbus
You know, it’s actually not that bad. No, I’m kidding. This movie is absolutely dreadful. I can’t imagine how you could have made this worse. It didn’t give me a terminal illness so at least there’s that much, but this low effort cash grab by Adam Sandler and Chris Columbus is probably the worst thing I’ll see all year. Yes, this is worse than Terminator Genisys. How bad is it? Well you probably already know if you’ve heard anything about this film, but let’s find out JUST how low Happy Madison can sink with this heinous train wreck of a movie!!
Pixels is about Sam Brenner (played by America’s favorite hack, Adam Sandler) who was a video game wiz during his childhood but never lived up to his potential as a… good video game player I guess, and is now a forty something loser who installs electronic equipment for rich people who can’t be bothered to plug in an HDMI cable. Not that his JOB makes him a loser; It’s his entire personality and outlook at life that makes him one of those. Sam is a smartass, doesn’t take responsibility for his own life choices, and blames everyone around him for his failures. His best friend is the god damn President of the United States (Kevin James) yet he still treats him like the fat kid he used to know when they were younger. Not in a “you’re still my best friend” sort of way, but in a “remember when I was cooler than you?” sort of way. Anyway, this pathetic loser is going through his sad life until one day aliens start to invade the Earth and for reasons too convoluted to even bother describing here, they’re doing so in the form of arcade games from 1982 and earlier. Because no one else in the world is as good as three guys who played games in the eighties (therefore conferring the idea that being a Gamer is an exclusive club of badasses who need a minimum level of skill and conformity before being granted the prestigious label), the President enlist Sam, another creepo friend of theirs called Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gadd) and eventually Sam’s rival from his childhood Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage) to fight the alien menace.
Alright, so I mentioned that Adam Sandler is a loser and he most certainly is in this. The problem is that he doesn’t actually grow in the movie; instead he just gets handed everything he “deserves” because of his skills from years ago. Hey there Mr. Diamond In The Rough! You don’t have to become a good person or realize your own flaws and improve upon them! Just wait until life grants you your wishes because clearly you are a super special snowflake that the world hasn’t learned to appreciate yet! Ugh. It’s almost as bad as Josh Gad’s story arc which is pretty much the same thing only with his waifu serving as a literal trophy for his heroism. No seriously, he has a fucking waifu in this (some big breasted video game character from 1982) who served as his spank material for thirty years while he lives in his grandma’s basement and comes up with conspiracy theories. Talk about celebrating the history of video games and the culture it’s built up, am I right!? The movie goes back and forth on this premise, with gamers (in this case Arcaders because the other word has become a wee bit tainted in the last year) being the only people who can save the world, but then treated as the worst kind of stereotypes you can imagine. Josh Gad’s character being the clichéd basement dweller, Adam Sandler being a jerk with little social grace and a chip on his shoulder against the world, and even Peter Dinklage’s Eddie Plant who at LEAST has a bit of life to him as a rock star gamer but is also a huge misogynistic jerkoff.
The homages to old school video games are underwhelming as well. Sure, Centipede, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong (among lots of other little cameos) show up in this, but it all feels out of place in a movie that is this cynical and unimaginative. Hell, they don’t even know how CHEAT CODES work in this movie! Not only is there supposed a cheat code for the BAD GUYS in a game to exploit (not the player character), but it’s also revealed that Eddie Plant used them to win competitions. Really? First of all, tell me ONE cheat code that exists for Donkey Kong, and second of all, how does ANYONE win a contests when they are so blatantly cheating!? You’d think that MAYBE someone would be MONTIROING the competitors to find out if someone used a code? Not only that, but they drop the premise whenever the fuck they need to just to get in a joke or move the plot along. At least two game characters in this are from AFTER 1982 (one I DID notice and the other I found out about later), and Josh Gadd’s waifu doesn’t even feel like she’s from that time. Her name is Lady Lisa and when she DOES finally show up, she’s not really a pixelated character. Instead, she transforms from pixels into a flesh and blood human for no other reason than to cast a hot chick in this and to make it not weird when Josh Gad starts making out with her. It reminds me of Transformers 2 (thank you for reminding me of THAT by the way) where one of the Decepticons was able to transform into a hot chick. Yup. This movie has a Bay-former in it, and she gets zero lines despite being one of the only female characters in this. Oh joy.
Now some of these could be considered nit-picks and would only be noticed by people who are “too close” to the thing they are paying homage to, but the problem is that the movie is ALL ABOUT appreciating this time in gaming history, yet it doesn’t do its homework well. You can’t set a premise for your movie (in this case revoling everthing around seventies and eighties gaming), and then make really obvious mistakes like this that just further prove that they don’t care about what they are supposedly respecting. You can’t have a movie set in ancient Rome and then have cars in them. If you wanted cars in your movie, you wouldn’t have set it in ancient Rome. Beyond that, it’s sloppily edited, the sets look cheap, and the military is apparently only about thirty guys. The acting sucks as you’d expect because everyone thinks they’re supposed to act wild and crazy in a comedy and instead come off as unrealistic and most DEFINITELY unfunny. There’s no doubt that this movie is an irredeemable sack of crap with nothing resembling a cohesive or satisfying story. Still. Is there ANYTHING in this that you could consider good? Well, the movie starts with a flash back to Sam’s arcade days and the aesthetics of these scenes are pitch perfect for what they PRESUMABLY are trying to get across. The arcade isn’t some half lit shack with a couple of cabinets played by quote-unquote gamers; It’s a space that’s been lovingly crafted to the smallest detail, filled with pristine cabinets and various other arcade games, and is being enjoyed by a wide range of kids who are all there to have fun. Now I know that arcades were hardly idyllic playgrounds considering its entire business relied on manipulating kids to give up their quarters, but the movie does a great job of recreating arcades from the era which is when they were at their most profitable and therefore could afford to put a crazy amount of time and effort into making them great. Hell, I wasn’t around back then and was visiting arcades in the late nineties, yet I STILL felt some nostalgia here for things like Chuck E. Cheese (fun fact: created by the founder of Atari).
Unfortunately, the comedy in these scenes is just what you’d expect (overly crass and lacking in wit) but it’s a bit forgivable here because at least they can only go so far with it what with them still being kids. It also COULD have been a great setup for Sam’s disappointing future (he still idolizes those times as a kid) but once again, his completely awful character squanders this potential and you just don’t care. Yeah, you had a good time as a kid but it never lead to anything. YOU’RE IN YOUR FORTIES! GET THE FUCK OVER IT!! Alright, so aside from the opening, is there anything else positive? Well this might be a bit controversial, but I thought the effects were pretty good and two of the set pieces COULD have been decent if they were in a different movie. It doesn’t look SPECTACULAR (this so called invasion looks more like a skirmish) and the set pieces I do like would have only been passible in a better film, but considering what a low bar we have with the rest of the movie, I think it’s worth noting what little quality there is. The first of the two set pieces in question is the Pac-Man chase scene which is a cool little homage and is shot competently enough.
Pac-Man does have a decent amount of menace when he’s causing destruction throughout the streets of New York City, and especially when he gets the power pellet and starts chasing the Arcaders around. It’s too bad that the characters in the cars are… well the characters we’ve been following so we don’t give a shit if anything DOES end up happening to them (and certainly won’t care if they succeed). The other set piece I thought COULD have worked is the Donkey Kong scene where the group has to make it through a game of Donkey Kong to save the prisoners that the aliens have taken. Just like in the Pac-Man scene, there’s a lot of here you COULD like if you gave a shit. The stage looks exactly like it does in the game, the barrels and fire balls look good, and Donkey Kong looks decent enough. There’s a point where Adam Sandler unleashes his inner gamer power or whatever and he starts kicking MASSIVE amounts of ass with the hammer while MOTHER FUCKING QUEEN IS PLAYING THE BACKGROUND!! THIS WOULD BE SO COOL… if it wasn’t Adam Sandler whose character does not deserve this heroic moment.
Also, they explode Donkey Kong’s head at the end and that just feels so wrong. In fact, that’s a lot of this movie. It sometimes gets the look right, but it never feels convincing. It never seems genuine or heart felt or even that they care about what they are paying homage to. It’s just nostalgic window dressing that’s semi competently done for a movie that doesn’t deserve even that much. Anything else that’s not absolutely terrible? Peter Dinklage, despite playing an utterly despicable character, will occasionally rise above the crap material he’s given and say something humorous. That’s right. Peter Dinklage, who’s playing a character THIS poorly written and unlikeable, is STILL leagues above anyone else who showed up for this. Along those lines, while Toru Iwatani is by no means a great actor, it still feels disappointing to have someone THIS cool and integral to gaming history show up in garbage like this. It’s like if Jack Kirby showed up in the Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie just to get kicked in the nuts.
Pixels and all the images you see in this review are owned by Columbia Pictures
Directed by Chris Columbus
So what can we learn from all this? Well while writing this review I went back and watched all the trailers and a featurette about the movie. It got me excited once again to see it because of the potential that is in there, but then I remembered what the final product was. We have heroes fighting against classic video game characters, but the heroes are absolutely detestable. The trailers also show very little of the comedic scenes where there AREN’T video game characters and those as well are just painful to watch when they are written so poorly. I guess what we can take away is that no matter how strong of a premise you have and no matter how much hype you can generate by preying on people’s nostalgia, it’s ALWAYS possible to ruin every last bit of it. Transformers may be able to get away with this shit for inexplicable reasons, but I don’t think Adam Sandler is going to pull off the same trick here. Maybe he sincerely does not give a shit anymore about his movies or was never all that talented to begin with. Maybe the same can be said for Chris Columbus, who knows. Just go watch Scott Pilgrim instead and avoid this piece of shit like the plague. Game Over. At least until the sequel.
[UPDATE: Apparently that wasn’t actually Professor Iwatani in the movie, but an actor (Denis Akiyama). What’s the point of a cameo when you can’t even get the person to make the cameo!? So is the movie worse because they faked a cameo, or is the movie better because Professor Iwatani didn’t actually waste his time on this? Not sure. Either way, the movie still sucks.]
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