Adam Sandler has become a very enviable punchline. With a body of work that is usually dreadfully dreary and dull aside from signature toilet humour, shouting when talking is preferred and gags that seemingly spring forth from the mind of a man stuck in his teen/college years, they strangely seem to return an obscene amount at the box office. It’s not that the man can do no wrong. It’s that he does. Every time. Yet, Hollywood loves it. And so do his viewers worldwide apparently. And so the studio execs just keep throwing money at Sandler. It boggles the mind. Here is yet another example of this very odd phenomenon.
Pixels has a very interesting premise, admittedly. Ditto for the amusing trailer. Back in the early 80’s, when a capsule containing the then contemporary culture was sent by NASA in one of its intergalactic voyages is intercepted by aliens, they misinterpret the message (specifically, a video chronicling an arcade tournament) as a taunt and a call to arms and thus decide to accept the ‘challenge’ and attack mother earth using a most cunning weapon – taking on the form of every 80’s arcade game you can imagine. The POTUS in this universe, Will Cooper (Kevin James) is therefore forced to call upon on his childhood best friend and gamer extraordinaire Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) together with a ragtag ‘rad’ team of old school gamers (Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad) along with a Military weapons expert and potential love interest Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan). Together they have to save the world from Pac-man, Donkey Kong and every evil mushroom from destroying our planet.
From that, it sure looks like a fun summer movie and add in the nostalgia bait? It becomes a bona-fide doesn’t-make-sense-on-any-level-but-who-gives-a-[expletive deleted] kinda movie. This might just have enough content to overlook Sandler’s usual sordid screen shenanigans. Right off the bat, the usual Happy Madison hallmarks appear. Adam Sandler’s character, who works as a home electronics installer, is best friends to the United States President (Kevin James. Again – just to reiterate the absurdity) and literally just walks in to the White House anytime he feels like. There’s also the token ‘hot girlfriend/wife/divorcee mum who has to make out with the bumbling but lovable lead character’ played by the ever alluring Michelle Monaghan (Mission Impossible III and the criminally under-watched Source Code). Throw in a couple of cameos and the usual Adam Sandler team mates and you’ve got yourself a sure-fire way to while away the next hour and some change.
Half an hour in, the otherwise frankly wonderful premise turns to despair as the usual suspects fall exactly into place doing what they do best – goofing around just waiting for a several million dollar paycheck. Sam, on an errand to install a home theatre system, winds up meeting with Col. Violet and sets up the love/hate theme to cover the movie when they both meet up in Cooper’s oval office. This is followed by, effectively, a montage outlining the military’s strategy of smashing the alien threat at which point our main character’s obscurely mastered set of skills come into play, proving their worth.
As expected, there isn’t Oscar worthy acting to be found here, nor should there be. Sandler and James pull out their usual bag of tricks (soft talking to YELLING FOR NO REASON and fat jokes respectively for each of them). The supporting cast though does try to salvage this wobbly ship. Josh Gad, albeit annoying as a young protege with debilitating social skills, somehow makes it believable and not make you want to gouge your eyes out. The very funny Jane Krakowski appears as the POTUS’s wife (see hot wife reference above) but sadly remains under utilized. The scene stealer though is Peter Dinklage as the brazen, half-gloved, wearing sunglasses inside pro gamer Eddie Plant. Having only known him as Tyrione Lannister in Game of Thrones, it was pretty awesome to see him take a comedic turn here and absolutely nail it as the ‘villain’ and nemesis who defeated poor old Sam back in ’82. He really does manage to get a laugh out of you – whether that’s because he’s genuinely funny or because I kept picturing him traversing King’s Landing, it didn’t matter.
The action itself is decently shot and a change from the usual dull grey and brown palette of dystopian future’s so loved by Hollywood or worse Michael Bays’s orange and teal – ugh. Its bright and colourful and full of sound bytes that make you feel like you have a GameBoy in hand or a brick game (depending on where you were raised). Scenes of Sonic the Hedgehog zipping around and Pac-man zipping through the streets of NYC are just utter fun though. The special effects look really good, especially with the 8 bit textures which I imagine can be a tricky to pull off and not look gimmicky. This may be as a result of seasoned direction from one Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter, Mrs. Doubtfire) who, under his watchful eye, doesn’t at least let the story run completely wild and stays within some ‘sane’ boundaries – most of the time that is. Some scenes unfortunately look like they were thrown in as fillers and others just for the trailer (Pacman and his creator).
Overall though, despite the obvious missteps and laggy bits, it is a better than average Happy Madison production compared to the past few releases including the awful, awful Grown Ups debacle. Then again that’s not a very high bar to surpass. Coupled with a sprinkling of genuine laugh out loud moments once in a while, Pixels then is a summer movie that barely manages to fill out the definition of a summer movie – slightly fun, not too dumb and somewhat enjoyable.
Still can’t figure out why I still keep watching every damn Adam Sandler movie. Why are they so addictive and dumb? Dammit.