Usually the most half-assed and pointless part of any modern movie are the stale, generic CG effects. "Pixels" flips that script and creates a visual style that is entirely unique with lovable and exciting digital creatures that will wow audiences of all ages. Then the movie casts Adam Sandler and pals in the lead roles, meaning that every aspect about the story, the comedy, and the characters will be lifeless and depressing. So "Pixels" is a unique experience where I spent half the movie in pure agony, with my hands clenched white knuckle onto my theater arm rests and my eyes shut begging the higher powers of the universe that I only vaguely believe in to end my suffering, but then felt something that was almost like joy when Adam Sandler shut up and let the animators do their jobs. No, this is a not a good movie.
That Adam Sandler stopped caring about anything roughly around the second act of "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" is not a new revelation. Sandler has made his character from "Funny People" literal. Hell, I already reviewed "Jack and Jill" which proved beyond all doubt that he cares nothing about anything. And yet even though anybody who cared about film saw through Adam Sandler's thin veneer long ago, he still makes roughly twenty movies a year and almost all of them turn a profit. I don't review Adam Sandler movies very often not only because his films are unwatchable on any level but also because his existence turns me into the worst kind of misanthropic asshole. If you ever needed proof that ultimately the average theater goer does not care about quality, Adam Sandler is it. He is one of their own: aging, lazy, and irrationally proud of ignorance and mediocrity. From there it is only a few short steps to deciding that all of Western civilization has failed. That's how bad Sandler's movies are: don't examine them too closely or else you'll find yourself in Montana writing manifestos while stocking up on ammunition, fertilizer, and underage child brides.
"Pixels" is probably the best Adam Sandler vehicle in years if only because at this point he has become too lazy to even be a proper lead anymore. He stopped trying to devise wacky characters for him to play ever since "Jack and Jill", instead defaulting to basically playing a wish-fulfillment version of himself. Sandler gave up on any attempt at arcs or development in his characters. Slowly he has been having less and less screentime in his own movies to allow his entourage of charity-case comic actors like Kevin James* to take up the slack. "Pixels" is about 20% Adam Sandler, 10% Kevin James, 30% Josh Gad, 20% Peter Dinklage, and 20% Q*bert - I listed them in ascending order of funniness, by the way. But every character in this movie is horrible, and "Pixels" would have been better served as a short film of nothing but CG characters destroying the world (as it was before Happy Madison got their hands on it). If there is any enjoyment to be found here, it is months later once "Pixels" is out on video, where you have a fast forward button to skip past the zombie-eyed comedians dishonest attempts at entertainment to watch the parts with actual spark and imagination.
The animators for "Pixels" managed to take the retro look of early 80s arcade games into something new and colorful. Classic characters like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and the Q*Bert are rendered into 3D with a bright voxel style**. Their scenes of destruction are made charming by how they zap the world around them into digitized cubes. So instead of cars exploding into Michael Bay horror they simply crumble into blocks of color. You can see real care and energy in this design, which is a better and more loving throw-back to the arcade times of yore than any of the forced 80s references and toilet humor that permeates the rest of the movie. This is what got the world excited about "Pixels", this is what bought my ticket, and this is what kept me sane enough to survive the rest of the movie and write this review.
|Awww, giant death Pac-Man is adorable!|
Along the way Adam Sandler meets a slumming Michelle Monaghan to accompany him to a forced love story. There are nineteen-year-old rookie actresses about to do their first lesbian threesome in a producer's jacuzzi for a low budget porn who have better chemistry than Adam Sandler and Michelle Monaghan. Monaghan wants nothing to do with Sandler because he's a loser who works for Best Buy and she is a DARPA colonel, but slowly Sandler kicks ass at video games and eventually she becomes his trophy. Meanwhile his friends all get their female prizes as well: Peter Dinklage ends up with a few celebrity cameos, and Zack Gad marries Q*Bert. That last bit sounds like a really random and funny plot twist but it is actually horrifying beyond words, trust me.
There are the occasional attempts at conflicts here or there, but the script is bare bones. Brian Cox, a man who truly loves acting and still has energy and life unlike many of his co-stars decades younger than him, gives the most spirited performance in the movie as a furious general. You would imagine that Cox and his traditional style would rub against Adam Sandler's slob routine, but no, not really. It turns out that Peter Dinklage cheated at "Pac-Man"*** years ago. But not much comes of that either, it simply validates the chip on Sandler's shoulder. Josh Gad has a crush on a female video game character named Lady Lisa, who was invented for this movie since the writers could not think of any attractive women of early 80s arcades****. She shows up and seems to be a villain, only to fall in love with him instantly. There is just not a lot going on here, only long stretches of dead air punctuated by what appear to be jokes.
|There could have been a wacky "Ghostbusters"-style comedy in "Pixels". They got Adam Sandler instead.|
Remember "Happy Gilmore"? I only bring it up because that movie was funny. I think at this point most audiences who watch Adam Sandler are not even watching his current movie, they're just re-running clips from "The Water Boy" in their head and pasting them over the deadness on the screen.
Now that said, "Pixels" did make me laugh a few times. More often than not I was not laughing and instead planning bloody murder on my fellow theater goers who were laughing, but I did laugh a few times. That did happen, I admit this. Josh Gad gives a pretty spirited attempt here and there. He has energy unlike Sandler and James. Sometimes in the shouting you'll find a funny routine like his attempt to be an angry sergeant to marines twice his size that he seems to be attracted to. Peter Dinklage's over-the-top gaming celebrity character works in theory as a parody of Billy Mitchell and Lucas from "The Wizard". Even so, if Peter Dinklage is going to be choosing films like "Pixels" to star in, he should definitely be terrified for when "Games of Thrones" ends. I'm already worried for him.
|This is an actual frame from an actual movie. My God.|
So that's really the final point here: "Pixels" has no reason to exist on any level because the world already had "Wreck-It Ralph". Go see something - anything - else.
* Kevin James, if you have any illusions about your place as a comedy actor, let me break them for you: you're the new Rob Schneider. Enjoy.
** Yeah, there are no pixels in "Pixels", these are technically voxels. There is a difference. That difference does not matter in the slightest in the context of this movie, but I have to know everything at all times.
*** Dinklage puts in a cheat code, which he has saved on his sunglasses. There are no cheat codes in "Pac-Man". There is actually no cheating at all in "Pac-Man". Also, in the real life sequence where they are driving Mini Coopers, Peter Dinklage's car teleports since he used the cheat code... which makes no sense for about a trillion reasons. You know, you can't teleport cars? And even if his cheat code worked back in the day, he wasn't playing as one of the ghosts, so why would this code help him now? I could go on for 2,000 words on this shit. It's fucking stupid, okay?
**** You know, other than Princess Daphne from "Dragon Lair", who was seriously hot. But that game came out in 1983, when the creatures from this movie are supposed to be from 1982. But then again, the characters from "Duck Hunt" show up and they were from 1984, and the aliens make reference to Madonna who would not be popular for years, so the rules don't matter. I just don't get why they invented a video game character for a movie whose main draw is based on nostalgia. Couldn't you use Pauline from "Donkey Kong" or Ms. Pac-Man or the naked Indian girl that gets raped in "Custer's Revenge"? You know, the classics.