To be clear, I do not like Adam Sandler. Not one bit. Not when he was a regular on Saturday Night Live, not when he was at the (ahem) height of his movie career, not now. Not ever. I just don’t find him funny. And in every movie we just wait for the blow up scene where he loses control of his quiet voice and goes nuts. Sandler has 42 film credits on his resume. Only one have I been encouraged to give as many as two stars in a review and that was the animated Hotel Transylvania.
But I keep wiping the slate clean and going to the theatre for Sandler staring vehicles in hopes that I can eventually see why he has such a loyal fan group of viewers. His latest venture was his best shot yet at winning me over. Pixels is a film about video games (that’s good) directed by Chris Columbus (that’s really good) who directed two of the Harry Potter films amongst a resume of memorable features. The premise is that aliens receive a video feed sent by NASA and they misinterpret the feed as a declaration of war. The aliens thusly attack earth using video game forms against us such as Pac Man, Donkey Kong and Centipede. In a race then to save the world, a group of old videogamers played by Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage and Sandler team up with the President of United States (Kevin Paul Blart James) to try and save humanity from the pixelated destruction that looked so awesome in the film’s trailer.
The idea I thought was brilliant. Early teasers and trailers had me giddy for the film and I went on record as believing that if pulled off correctly, Pixels had a chance of becoming one of the surprise hits of the summer.
Nope. Game Over.
For a film that was intended to be fun and fancy free there isn’t a lot of fun or fancy freeness. It felt tired and uninspired despite the original idea behind the screenplay. The effects were good, but everything seemed copied from other movies (Ghostbusters most assuredly) leaving anything outside of the visuals as uninteresting hollowness.
The cast is a collection of familiar faces. James, Dinklage, Sandler and Gad are joined by Sean Bean, Jane Krakowski, Brian Cox and Michelle Monaghan. But they all just play cookie cutter characters there to push one or two jokes forward without adding any much needed depth to the story. We even get a scene with Serena Williams thrown in for good measure.
Pixels is being promoted as a family film so the conclusion of all the opening chaos is never in doubt. Humans will win, lessons will be learned and Adam Sandler will get the girl. Yawn, Yawn and WTF? Right from the opening scenes, I could have predicted with fair certainty how each character was going to act/react and where their story arcs would eventually take them.
Now back to Sandler. Unfortunately, he keeps his streak with me alive. He is not the most miscast actor on the call sheet (that would have to go to Kevin James) but his influence is felt throughout the film and his cardboard acting skills and inability to even make me smile let alone laugh stays true. With or without Drew Barrymore, Sandler is a gravity pull towards bad comedy. Although, in his defense, when you are given such cheesy lines as “We have to take the battle to them!” and “We got this, if we don’t the world ends”, there isn’t much to work with in the first place.
I didn’t hate Pixels. I can give it a solid 2 out of 5. But I do hate that the opportunity was wasted. Bringing back 1980 video game characters should appeal to those of us 35+ years of age. So I would have hoped the humor to be a step above fart joke mentality. Instead, the writer of The Goonies and Gremlins miscast his two leads and gave us the Atari 2600 of movies.