The #1 complaint that everyone everywhere has already made regarding Adam Sandler‘s new film Pixels is that it’s basically just a rip-off of a Futurama episode, although for some reason this is not what I thought of when I saw the previews. To me, it looked more like “Galaxy Quest meets Wreck-It Ralph“, which doesn’t sound too bad on its own until you remember that, oh right, this is “Galaxy Quest meets Wreck-It Ralph as told by the doofus behind Jack & Jill and Little Nicky“.
Now that it’s actually been released to theaters, people have far more complaints than simply calling the film out on its potential plagiarism. Critics are going loose on its unintelligent humour, its unlikable characters, its intense abundance of illogical scenes, and its failure in truly celebrating nerd culture and evoking 80’s nostalgia amongst gamers in the audience. Also, they made Peter Dinklage of all people give a bad performance. I guess only Adam Sandler wields such power.
The premise of Pixels is basically that, in the 1980’s, a time capsule was sent from Planet Earth to uncharted deep space containing images from some of our most celebrated old video games, which is for some reason a thing we want aliens to see. Aliens do receive the message, but they interpret the imagery within as a declaration of war, and so they immediately start studying it in order to orchestrate an attack of their own which, just as you’re probably guessing right now, means that the aliens eventually attack our home planet with such over-sized game sprites as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Q*bert, and the starships from Space Invaders (and Smurfs for some reason). The way that they’ve used CGI to translate all these classic, low-graphics characters to semi-realistic 3D is often cool-looking, I’ll give the movie that. Although, let’s face it, a more apt title for this movie would be Voxels.
Earth has but one hope: an ostracized group of unprivileged nobodies known simply as “the nerds”. The nerds in question are played by Sandler himself, playing easily the most unpleasant jerk of the bunch, the aforementioned Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, and Sandler’s old friend Kevin James who’s also the president somehow. When times become bleak, these dudes are selected by the U.S. government to utilize their geeky knowledge to help fight off the attacking game sprites any way they can and, spoiler alert, it all works out in the end and Sandler’s character gets to go home with a conventionally attractive military lady played by Michelle Monaghan because of course he does. All-in-all, the film can best be described as a modern-day Revenge of the Nerds, released in the age of the Internet where nerds require no revenge.
The supporting cast is rich, with such ashamed-looking participants as Brian Cox, Dan Aykroyd, and Sean Bean filling out the list of cameos and bit characters (no pun intended). There’s even a cameo from Matt Frewer, reprising his role as the iconic 80’s mascot Max Headroom, known for his appearances in countless TV commercials and a sci-fi series based around his inception. For me, that was the best thing in the movie.
Since its release just a few days back, reading the reviews for this movie is already an absolute riot! Joe Neumailer of New York Daily News summarized the film like so: “Moronic jokes, lame action, and depictions of middle-aged neuroses … in other words: a Sandler movie”. MovieBob Reviews said “Pixels is clearly aiming for an ‘advanced scrotal cancer’ kind of vibe” while Tim Grierson of Popular Mechanics declared “Even Q*bert seems embarrassed having to act alongside [Sandler]”. My personal favourite, though, is probably the one you can find on The Verge which has the remarkably ominous headline “Adam Sandler must be stopped”.
In Sandler’s “kinda-sorta-not really” defense, I liked the initial idea of this film and I was really hoping that it was going to end up being another movie like Click – a cute science fiction romp that manages to be inventive and touching not just necessarily in spite of Sandler’s involvement, but sometimes because of it. Click was a movie that proved yet again that Sandler can act fairly well if he’s given dramatic material, so it continues to baffle me why he’s wasting his career on low-brow comedies about “poopy” and “wiener” jokes. Surely it cannot involve money? That would be like Grown Ups 2 making 247 million dollars at the box office even though nobody liked it… Oh, wait.
The only thing this film has going for it is its colorful look, a few neat visual gags (most of them lifted from the much smarter short film on which the movie is based, however) and the way they incorporated the creator of Pac-Man, even if they didn’t cast the actual guy. I suspect that they would have hired the president of Nintendo if he didn’t pass away. Maddox recently made a somewhat tasteless joke on his podcast that Satoru Iwata really died of shame over Super Smash Brothers. Couldn’t you at least have said that it was because of Pixels?
Pixels is, in summation, stupid as hell; it often feels cynical, its basic concept isn’t cleverly executed whatsoever, and it definitely isn’t as charming in its references as it thinks it is. If you want a movie that does 80’s nostalgia right and is actually hilarious, go re-watch Kung Fury, and even then that movie is only partially related to video games. I can only hope that the reputation that this film is getting will finally signal to Mr. Sandler that it is either time for him to quit entirely or give his old friend Paul Thomas Anderson a call for one final chance.
In addition to the trailer, allow me to link you to my submission for a compilation video that Slowbeef of Retsupurae fame is making, entitled Adults React To Pixels. It’s basically in the same vein as his Adults React To PewDiePie video, right down to having the subject matter be something that’s not only desperately unfunny but also infuriating to most people who care about video games. Not too shabby there, Slowbeef.