Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Dan Aykroyd
Currently, it feels as if people are programmed to hate any Adam Sandler film released, even without having seen it. They’re prerogative is that Adam Sandler no longer makes “good movies”. Nowadays, you can’t read a review for an Adam Sandler film without it centering around how much Sandler sucks now and how he hasn’t made a good movie in eons and blah, blah, blah. I’m not into hating for hates sake, which is what is apparently happening with Sandler, it’s this hive like mentality of hatred towards Sandler. Where does the hatred stem from? Probably from the string of bad movies he’s been making. The last torturous one I saw was Jack and Jill (2011) and that one turned me off from seeing Sandler movies. How did I end up seeing that one in theaters you might ask? Well, I like to give movies the benefit of the doubt, sometimes I come out a winner and discover a film I would have not seen otherwise, but other times, like with Jack and Jill it’s just like“WHYYYYY?!” The way I see it and in Sandler’s defense I will say that we can’t really blame Sandler for making bland family movies, because that’s who he is, he’s the all encompassing actor who makes films that are supposed to appeal to everyone. He’s movies are made to be consumed in mass quantities and in order to do that, the film has to be a certain way. They can’t be too intense, or bloody, or offensive or violent, they gotta have that ‘feel good, nothing bad is going to happen’ vibe to them. Like, don’t take nothing to seriously, you’re here just to have some fun. Let’s just accept that he’s the guy who makes that type of film, that’s who he’s become. He’s gone the way of Eddie Murphy, but in a successful way? My advice is, if you don’t like the crappy pappy movies that Sandler makes, don’t go and see them! Just wait until he works with a good director, gets critical acclaim again and makes something like Punch Drunk Love (2002), his only truly good film if you ask me.
So just how squeaky clean is Pixels? Well, just by way of an example, in one scene when Sandler sees Pac-Man eat the hand of his creator, and Sandler he says “that was some weird….stuff” instead of “That was some weird…shit!” He even pauses before saying ‘stuff’ as if mentally correcting himself saying “nope, gotta keep it PG-13!” But whatever man, you can say “shit” in a PG-13 movie, it’s just that you’re so self censored that you can’t even bring yourself to say shit. The most basic of cusses. It feels as if Sandler is in a censored state of mind even as he films, in other words, no real space to cut loose and go crazy. Feels like there’s no improv and if you have a good comedian on your film, usually that’s where comedy gold is at, the improv. But no, dialog here is clean as a whistle, god forbid word of mouth spreads and a mother ends up saying something like “my kid is not going to see that nasty Adam Sandler movie, he’s always cussing”. So following Sandler’s squeaky clean movie rules, the film will have kids and families, often times dysfunctional families facing problems and overcoming them (like a divorce for example) and Sandler will be sympathetic and kind to the kid in the movie because that’s the target audience. So this is the kind of movie you can expect my friends. A film following a formula every step of the way. Nothing is to be taken too seriously; you can’t invest yourself emotionally because you know nobody will die. Not in a squeaky clean Adam Sandler family movie like this one, so just sit back and watch the fireworks, which is really the only thing that this movie is good for.
Some folks seem to think that this film was based on an episode of Futurama that has a similar premise, but in reality, this film is based on a French short film that lasts only about 2 ½ minutes, it is also called Pixels (which you can see here) and it sets the ground rules for the look and the mechanics of the’ video games come to life’ part of the film. The short makes no sense or meaning, it just shows us a guy putting an old television in the garbage and suddenly from said television all these old video games emerge. Suddenly Donkey Kong is on top of the Empire State building throwing barrels, Pac Man is eating street cars and Centipedes fly through the skies. In the short, the video game characters destroy the city by turning everything they touch into square little pixels, but that’s about as far as the thing goes. It has no story, no villains, no heroes, just a concept which Chris Columbus and Adam Sandler ran with and stretched into a film. And I say stretched because that’s what they did, the films premise is so simple, the story so non-existent, the characters so one note that they had to stretch things out. Pixels feels repetitive and one note; we fight one video game, beat it, then fight the next one, and they go on and on like this till the end. There’s nothing unexpected here, this is as formulaic as it gets. Worst part? This is the kind of movie in which the trailer has shown you everything. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you know, step by step how this movie is going to go.
What this movie is though is a nostalgia bomb. If you were born in the 80’s and played video games in arcades the way I did, you will feel a shot of nostalgia in your system. I have to admit it was cool seeing a giant Pac-Man eating up taxi cabs and city streets, especially since I’m such a Pac-Man nut! It was awesome seeing a giant King Kong throwing barrels at Adam Sandler, and then there’s this scene where they simply throw as many old video game characters on the screen as they can, so you’ll see Frogger, Q-bert, Paperboy, Centipede, Galaga, Space Invaders…and that’s without counting all the other characters from 80’s pop culture that show up in the film like Max Headroom, Ronald Reagan, Madonna and Hall & Oates. The soundtrack is made up of hits from the 80’s all the way. So in this sense, the movie proves entertaining to an extent, you will be like “Oh there’s Q-Bert!” Still, I think they could have used even more classic video game characters on the film, apparently they could only afford to use a limited amount of characters. Where was the knight from Ghosts and Goblins? Sadly, the novelty of seeing old video game characters on screen is the only thing this film has to offer, the movie itself is just a bunch of empty calories starting by the fact that the villains in this movie are faceless, we never really know who they are because they talk through videogame characters. So suddenly, our favorite old school video games are evil. I mean, I never saw Pac-Man as a bad guy? But there he is eating people up! So yeah, this is yet another film with a weak villain whom we never even get to meet. Pixels is extremely simple and banal that’s all I can say.
Chris Columbus directs this film and it's sad to see him directing such a simplistic film, considering he's actually done decent family films like Home Alone and Home Alone 2, hell this is the guy who wrote Gremlins (1984) and freaking The Goonies (1985)! I would have liked something from Columbus with a little more story put into it, instead the whole film runs on a gag, not really even trying to get us invested. Pixel does have its moments, again, mostly its moments are associated with the appearance of the giant video game characters, but where’s the comedy? It’s not here; Pixels feels like they are not even really trying. I mean, you got all these good actors and comedians in your movie, why not have them throw in some of their own personality, let them improvise, let them put a little of their soul into the proceedings. This is the reason why Ghostbusters (1984) worked so well, it had a lot of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd in it, it’s their personalities that bring those characters to life. In contrast, on Pixels Sandler seems to have no personality, he’s got this spaced out, bored look on his face all the time? Like he doesn’t even want to speak? He’s so laid back that he comes of as lifeless. So yeah, I get why people hate on Sandler so much, he’s just not doing anything relevant lately, I hope he gets his mojo back at some point. Still, Pixels isn’t terrible, it’s completely watchable, just not very engaging or hilarious. It’s simply put a very average film. But hey, there’s Frogger jumping and smashing a car into pieces! Cool!
Rating: 2 out of 5