When aliens misinterpret video-feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war against them, they attack the Earth, using the games like PAC-MAN, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Centipede and Space Invaders as models for their various assaults. President Will Cooper (Kevin James) has to call on his childhood best friend, í80s video game champion Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) to lead a team of old-school arcaders (Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad) to defeat the aliens and save the planet.
Sometimes a plot idea can sound so great on paper but then it doesn't translate as well in execution. Others are executed really well, yet still have an ingredient in their makeup that does more harm than good for it. Unfortunately for Sony's Pixels, we're ultimately living in a rather post-Adam Sandler movie-watching society. The fact that a film about old, bygone (albeit absolutely classic) video games stars a past-his-prime actor like Sandler didn't help its critical reception or box office returns. Sandler has had his own unique movie formula that was big in the late 90s and early 2000s, but he's struggled to find a hit in recent years, and Pixels hasn't done a whole lot to change that. And really, Pixels is a lot more enjoyable than it's given credit for.
I grew up in the 1980s, so games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Galaga, Burger Time and especially Super Mario Bros were classics we played on Atari, IntelliVision and most significantly for my generation, the original Nintendo. These are games that have stood the test of time and are still fantastic to play. The film Pixels is about an alien race that misread a signal we sent featuring our video games in it into space as some kind of threat. As a result, the aliens attack earth with the very video game characters humans created, and mankind must either defeat them or be annihilated. It's an absolutely ridiculous plot, but it's simultaneously ridiculous fun, and anyone who has an appreciation for classic video games should be able to appreciate Pixels for what it is. It pokes fun at the disaster movie genre as well as the nerdy game-playing demographic, and just aims to entertain. It's stupid -- really stupid -- but also so, so much fun.
Sandler's usual schtick is pretty evident here. Granted, it is rather toned-down compared to most of his PG-13 fare, but his style of comedy is at the forefront here. Josh Gad's character, Ludlow, fulfills the token eccentric, crude loser kind of character, while Peter Dinklage's Eddie is the more popular, arrogant antagonist. Still, it's not quite as crude as Sandler's comedies usually are, but the awkward humor remains and those who don't like that kind of approach are going to have a problem with Pixels. It's unfortunate that Pixels needed to succumb to his brand of humor, too, because it would have worked far more universally if it had a more accessible (or even family-friendly) comedic approach.
On the surface, Pixels seems like a mess: a silly plot, an ex-gaming dork as the country's president, an unlikely and convenient chance romance, the world having to rely on nerds to save the day, and a plot that involves aliens resembling classic video games attacking our planet. It's crazy, popcorn-munching entertainment, but it does what it's set out to do: entertain. While Gad's and Dinklage's material are the most bizarre and crude of the bunch, the rest of the movie is relatively more benign. Even the aliens disolving humans into tiny blocks as they're beamed up to a mothership seems fatally violent, until we find that those who experience this seemingly intergalactic demise actually survive just fine. The action is otherwise just visually delightful nods to the video games of old with a gigantic Pac-Man devouring everything in its path, Centipedes and the bugs from Galaga terrorizing the skies, and the main characters literally living out Donkey Kong. And watching it at home in 3D actually adds to the film a great deal. The bonus features are on the 2D disc and I noticed the film just didn't come alive visually the way the 3D version did. Honestly, I'm one to skip out on the 3D option in the theaters, but some movies just really take on new life in the format. Pixels is one of those movies.
It'd be easy to sit and scrutinize the plot and story, but any comedy-based action film that doesn't even really try to take itself very seriously kind of earns a pass on over-analyzing things. In other words, you don't go to see Pixels for anything other than laughs and fun visuals. In that regard, Pixels delivers. I've never been a big fan of Sandler's style (I often like him, but not how surrounding characters are written), but with it toned-down some, it's far more tolerable. (For example, one of his previous films, Blended, featured a lot of unnecessary sexual humor -- and just most of the jokes were pretty unfunny -- whereas only more minor sexual jokes are included here.) There were plot elements that were just weird or made no sense (like how the Lady Lisa character is the only pixelated character that can turn completely human... and just really her whole character in general), and it's stuff like that that hurt the overall film, but I still found a lot of the action sequences to be a lot of fun. The way they fight against the Centipedes was reminiscent of something from the first Men In Black, but it wasn't so close that it felt like a total rip-off. On the other hand, the fight with Pac-Man and the cars as "ghosts" was just a lot of fun.
As I've been hinting at, the content is like other Sandler films, but not quite as blunt. Still, there's an implied "mother f---" that is cut off at the "mother" part as our heroes watch a group of kids sing a song they wrote for them on TV. Just think of the little kids singing in Duloc in Shrek and you'll get the gag. There are 2 uses of the "S" word (both from Eddie) and a handful of other mild swearing from other characters, while some crude humor is certainly present. Michelle Monaghan's character Violet is suffering from her husband having cheated on her with a 19-year-old Pilates instructor, so some jokes pertaining to that (and her wanting to "invent a slut-seeking missile to take her out") are made. Ludlow is obsessed with a video game character named Lady Lisa, and at one point she materializes in human form as a sexy blonde, much to his delight. And Eddie states at one point that he wants to be in the Lincoln bedroom with Serena Williams and Martha Stewart, and at the end of the film, he looks up at the White House and sees them both in the room waiting for him. Having that as one of the last images for viewers to ponder felt especially icky.
Despite its comedic flaws and missteps, Pixels is just good fun and entertainment. It certainly could have been stronger, but it succeeds more often than it doesn't, and seems to catch a bit more flack from critics than it probably deserves. Fans of the cast or classic video games in general should still find some merit in Pixels.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/25/15)
Pac-Man (4:32) - The behind-the-scenes featurettes are segmented into short little pieces dedicated to the games featured in the film. This one talks about Pac-Man being like Godzilla in the film, ravaging New York. We see the actors on set and some behind-the-scenes footage as things are being filmed (there's also some alternate dialog from Sandler in one scene that includes the "S" word here).
Centipede (3:36) - Centipede gets the spotlight here in the same format.
Galaga (3:33) shows how they did the military base explosionm, specifically, and reveals how they would use practical effects whenever possible, which certainly did enhance the action.
Dojo Quest (4:20) - This was the only fake game that had been created just for the movie, featuring the character Lady Lisa. We hear from actress Ashley Benson who played the human version of her and see her training for the part. We also learn that she and Josh Gad had to perform their own fight stunts because some of their action had been planned and filmed last-minute!
Qbert (2:32) shows how they created the character to be interacted with by the cast for the film.
God of the Machine (1:36) - This is about a cameo in the movie featuring the real creator of Pac-Man who appears in the film as a tech fixing a game in the arcade. We learn that, coincidentally, the man had also worked as an arcade game repair man before designing Pac-Man!
Game On (3:59) - This is a music video by Waka Flocka Flame (what a name, huh?) featuring Good Charlotte and features footage from the movie while the artists dance and sing. It's not that bad of a song, but "Waka"'s performance persona is rather off-putting.
The Space Invader (1:49) - Sony had held a contest where whoever had the highest score in Space Invaders at 2014's comic con would win a walk-on role in the film. The winner had also never played Space Invaders before! We see a little footage of him on-set in the crowd during the young Sam and Eddie video game tournament scene.
Photo Gallery (0:41) - Lastly is a short slideshow featuring photos from the film and its production.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 10/11/15)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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