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Movie Review: #Pixels

The video game invasion of Pixels is easily Game Over.

Review by Matt Cummings

It's official: Adam Sandler is The Worst Well-Known Actor Alive. With a resume of infamy that includes the gross (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry), the totally inappropriate (That's My Boy), and the plain boring (Grown Ups 2), the SNL alum seems far away from the heady days of Happy Gilmore. His newest travesty Pixels is much like the rest: filled with promise but utterly devoid of results.

When video game masters Brenner (Sandler), Chewie (Kevin James), and the socially awkward Ludlow (Josh Gad) compete in a local competition, they are bested by the showboat Eddie (Peter Dinklage). Fast-forward 30 years and the foursome are reunited when an alien force invades Earth after receiving a space capsule filled with transmissions of various 80's games that they dominated so well. Together with Chewie now as President of the United States, they are joined by Lt. Colonel Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan) and the US military as they seek to eliminate the worldwide threat by battling real-life versions of Centipede, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong.

From the moment it arrives, we can tell that Pixels is just another Happy Madison production, only this time it's been stripped down to a PG-13 'bring your family to see' sellout. It's also clear that Pixels wants desperately to be the next LEGO Movie, filled with cute video game icons that are supposed to warm our hearts; instead, we get checkbox characters that have no will or individuality, making their assault on humankind look more like the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation. We never make the connections - human or CGI - that are necessary to gain a personal stake in what's happening, clearly something that LEGO executed flawlessly.

To be fair, I have seen very good things out of Sandler (Hotel Transylvania, Men, Women, and Children), but in Pixels he's just another loser who finds himself in the arms of yet another Hollywood hottie. Sandler has all the style and charm of week-old garbage, but more importantly he has no conception of his character and fails to emote Brenner into a likable figure. Instead, he's just another guy with promise who became a loser dude with an unfulfilled life. James fares only slightly better, who is totally unbelievable as the president, his buffoonery equal to Paul Blart and the dozen exactly similar roles throughout his checkered career. For all his weirdness, Gad is largely de-fanged throughout, with his singing bit in Act 3 feeling more like a special request that someone at the studio somehow approved. More important, the three just don't click, no matter the arrangement. That's odd for Sandler and James, who've worked in way too many films together; I'm not asking for Oscar-worthy performances, but most of the time I do want to actually like the characters I'm watching.

Part of the problem here lies in the writing foursome that includes Tim Herlihy, who uses reality when they think it suits them but brushes that aside when it's time for real character development or a plot device to keep the story moving. Director Chris Columbus just lets Sandler, Gad, and James do whatever they want, soon becoming carbon copies of previous characters from other films. Monaghan was terrific in season 1 of True Detective, but here she's just another woman who needs Sandler's Brenner to save the day. The real fun is had by Dinklage, but even his shtick gets old and even a little weird. The comedy here is just a scrubbed version of Sandler's usual stink, hoping that a PG-13 rating will bring in more audiences. Luckily, we're not treated to the typical Sandler expressions, nor are we forced to endure another trademark: a sex scene with an elderly woman.

Some might think that's a low blow, but when you're given a $110 million budget, you better achieve something. Instead, we're treated to one flat joke after another that made little connections with our test audience. They come off so poorly that even the cheesy premise can't stand under the weight. The one decent thing here - the CGI - is a mish-mash of the excellent (the digital cubes that are blasted by the aliens, the Donkey Kong scene featured in the trailer), and the terrible (check out the green screening near the end), only made worse by an over-flashy 3D transfer. Speaking of that, it's not necessary to see Pixels in it or with upgraded sound, if you're dying to see Summer mediocrity play its deadly hand. I would also discourage you from paying full price; nothing here is spectacular enough that a visit to your local rental hall in a few months won't cure.

Pixels could have been the next LEGO Movie. Instead, it takes the low and stupid road, led by the equally boring Sandler, James, and Gad. Somewhere in there is a story that could have made the days of arcades and Blockbuster seem almost welcome again. Instead, it's just another low-brow Sandler comedy, whitewashed of any meaningful diversity or message. How he continues to gain support is beyond me, but it's a film not worthy of your dollars, even as a rental.

Pixels is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments and has a runtime of 105 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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