Published Jul 23, 2015Like so many of Adam Sandler's recent comedies, it's hard to figure out who the intended audience is for Pixels. A silly trifle that would have even be stretched thin at an hour, the movie's laced with juvenile humour clearly aimed squarely at kids but also loaded with '80s references designed to delight their parents. While the fine folks at Pixar, for instance, have proven to be masters at the business of sending the entire family home happy, director Chris Columbus strikes an awkward balance here that leaves no one satisfied.
Back in 1982, Brenner (Sandler) and his friends Cooper and Ludlow discovered the simple pleasures of the arcade in games like Galaga and Space Invaders. Brenner's entire life may have even been forever altered when he lost the arcade championship to the intense and cocky Eddie "The Fire Blaster" Plant. As a disappointing middle-aged man now — embodied by present-day Sandler — Brenner works as a technician who sets up audio and visual equipment for customers.
At least he's still remained friends with Cooper (Kevin James), who only managed to become President of the United States. Cooper calls on Brenner's help when it becomes apparent that aliens received the transmission of their arcade championships back in the day as some kind of threat and begin to attack Earth with those same beloved video game characters. Brenner, Cooper, conspiracy theorist Ludlow (Josh Gad) and eventually even Eddie (Peter Dinklage) are thrust into action to use their mastery of the old arcade games to save the world.
There's also a requisite love story thrown into the mix, with Sandler's hollow bickering with a pretty Lieutenant Colonel (Michelle Monaghan) slowly blossoming into contrived mutual affection. Though the few sequences in which the characters battle with the video games generate a little bit of excitement and come to vibrant life in 3-D, it's all a decidedly low-stakes affair, especially for one where the fate of our planet's existence hangs in the balance.
There are a few chuckles buried in there somewhere if you look hard enough, but too often, scenes that are seemingly designed to build to a big laugh abruptly fizzle out instead. We've come to expect this kind of mediocrity from Sandler and James, but Dinklage is especially disappointing in a role that has the potential to be a real highlight. Newly sprung from prison and sporting some kind of strange accent that comes and goes, he appears to have the right attitude for the part, but the script rarely delivers on the promise of the character and gives him nothing funny to do or say.
Thanks to diminishing box office returns and his recent deal to produce material directly for Netflix, we may be witnessing the end of seeing Sandler comedies regularly in theatres. It's disheartening to think that it all started so promisingly with anarchic classics like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, but could go out on this uninspired effort that vanishes quickly from your memory like the very pixels in the film, which briefly flit and flash about before finally disappearing.