Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan
Genre: Action/ Comedy
After a video feed sent into space in the 1980s that contains footage of classic arcade video games is received by an alien race, they interpret it as a declaration of war. As this alien race sends classic arcade game characters to destroy the earth, the military is powerless to stop them, and only a trio of former video games champions that mastered these games as children can now save the planet.
Whenever I (and indeed most film fans) see the logo ‘Happy Madison Productions’ at the start of a film, I do truly get that sinking feeling and cannot help but feel extreme dread for what I am going to have to suffer watching for the next 100 minutes or so. I am still happy to give Sandler a chance as he proved in Punch Drunk Love that he can act when he wants to, but instead he now just delivers nasty and cynical films that are just a deep insult to the intelligence of anyone who watches them.
Pixels was universally slated on its cinematic release, but I was never going to part with any money to see anything by Adam Sandler at the cinema anyway. I was however more than happy to rent it as surely not even someone like Sandler, a man often guilty of severe cinematic hubris, can mess up what is such a great concept, and perhaps people were a little too trigger happy to slate Pixels because he was in it. I cannot stand the man, and most of his cinematic output makes me want to genuinely contemplate never watching a film again, but this time he actually has stumbled upon a great concept (perhaps by accident) and to mess it up would be almost rather impressive.
Well, despite having all the potential ingredients to be one of the most enjoyable action comedies of the year (not a difficult feat as this genre tends be devoid of much quality output these days – Ride Along, anyone?) it gives me no pleasure to confirm that Pixels is an absolute mess of a film, and it still baffles me just how they managed to mess everything up quite so spectacularly. It seems to me that it is the extreme arrogance and complacency that Sandler demonstrates with his ‘comedies’ is also the main reason as to why Pixels is so bad. He and everyone involved were very much well aware of how great the initial concept was, and thought that was enough and they could just make up some slapdash narrative and throw in the usual puerile lowest-common-denominator childish humour and then make loads of money.
Director Chris Columbus does not exactly have a great recent CV, but though his action sequences are perhaps not jaw-dropping, they are perfectly competent and actually the strongest point in the film after the initial concept itself. Perhaps it is more the concept of them than their actual execution that makes them good fun at times, but there are some genuinely great individual visual moments. The CGI is also pretty decent, but then in this day and age, that should be a given anyway
It is however literally everything else about Pixels that makes it so rubbish, the main culprit being the script by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling. The execution of the entire plot is appallingly incompetent, with constant humongous plot holes and explanation for things happening often being insultingly lazy. It makes the whole tone of the narrative alienating as despite the apparent imminent threat of the destruction of the entire world, there is never any real sense of genuine peril or danger (let alone any Bill Pullmaneque rousing speeches!), and naturally the world is saved solely by America! Many action comedies can produce moments of genuine comedy and genuine seriousness, but Pixels produces neither.
Of course to make as much money as possible, Pixels had to receive a 12a certificate, but though it cannot be as puerile as Sandler would probably like, the comedy in Pixels is very immature and childish, and never, ever funny. There are plenty of moments when it feels like Pixels is just Grown Ups 3 with some added action sequences, and that can never be a good thing! Though it may not work as an action-comedy, Pixels does work as a horror film on some levels; I personally find the idea of Kevin James as president of America particularly horrifying!
The flat-as-a-pancake script not only makes the whole narrative uninvolving, but also the characters highly forgettable, and almost impossible to route for. Josh Gad, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage and Brian Cox overact as if their life depended on it. Michelle Monaghan is obviously a talented actress, but she has little to do in a role that is two-dimensional, generic and very much at the mercy of the narrative and Adam Sandler’s vanity. In one scene the action turns to London (which is apparently in England!), and not only does it consist of ‘hilarious’ racist depictions of the English (Someone really should tell Hollywood that we have a more varied range of accents in England than just posh and cockney!), but it allows a very anger Sean Bean to furiously chew scenery.
Sandler himself delivers a comatose performance very much in keeping with his general attitude these days; he just cannot be bothered as his films make money and he therefore doesn’t need to. He is a perfect demonstration of the bubble that so many in this industry live in, feeling they can just churn out what are essentially products and people will pay to see what is basically 100 minutes of those on screen insulting their intelligence. Not only is the CGI representation of Q*bert by far the most engaging character in the film, Sandler is also completely out acted by it. It is depressing that Sandler managed to get his dirty hands on the concept of Pixels, as now it means those that for those that these games were such a huge part of their childhood and film fans everywhere will probably never get the film they deserve from the initial great concept.
Adam Sandler’s arrogance seeps to new lows; not content with delivering vile comedies, with Pixels he has now destroyed the childhood memories of so many with a film that takes what is such a great concept and spectacularly fails to make the most of it on almost unprecedented levels.