Hardly Worth a Quarter: 'Pixels' Review
In a lot of ways, Adam Sandler’s recent career trends resemble that of once acclaimed supernatural thriller director M. Night Shyamalan. Not in their acting abilities, ego, or fame but rather something far more intangible. You see, Adam Sandler used to make good movies. Genuinely excellent examples of comedic thought and he was equally as capable of delivering a heart wrenching emotional dialogue as he was performing elaborately hilarious slapstick routines. Similarly, M. Night Shyamalan was once dubbed “the next Steven Spielberg,” and produced many cult classics whose fandom persists to this day. The real resemblance, however, lies in the unique talent both men share in precipitating an entirely hollow feeling of optimism for whatever feature they’re involved with next. Sure, people may say that they expect nothing from Sandler’s latest comedies or that Shyamalan has lost his touch. But, secretly, just like everyone else, some tiny part of their being actual wants, and hopes, that the film will succeed. If only to serve as a reminder of what the now-disappointing thespian/director used to be capable of.
For Shyamalan fans, it seems that very thing has happened with his new film Split which is garnering rave reviews as of this review’s writing. Adam Sandler however, continues to play into those ironclad expectations forged through the fires of his hotly anticipated yet predictably terrible slew of films in the several years - and Pixels is no exception.
Marketed as a feat of visual effects and lighthearted, imaginative comedy, Pixels is a horrendously lazy affront to all things funny. When intergalactic aliens discover video footage of classic arcade games from Earth, they misinterpret the footage as a declaration of war and set to work by invading the planet. But get this, they use giant 3D (yet still pixelated) video game characters from the footage as their weapon. Makes complete sense of course.
But wait - there’s more. Without options and common strategies rendered useless, US President Cooper (Kevin James) turns to his old arcade buddies (Adam Sandler, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad) and asks for their expertise and help in defeating the alien forces. Once again, an excellent decision and totally natural though process. Then again, what else should one expect from President Kevin James?
When reviewing comedies, especially unbridled, let’s go crazy with CGI-type comedies, however, criticizing plot points is unnecessary and almost too easy. So let’s get on with why this is truly a piss poor film, shall we?
To kick things off, the major flaw that plagues a movie as nonsensical but relatively inspired in its premise is the terrible acting. Oh god, the acting. What alway surprises me about Peter Dinklage in comedy roles is how utterly insufferable every line he speaks is. Perhaps it was directorial influence or misplaced creative logic, but there’s something especially insulting in how someone so talented can butcher an unnecessary pimp-ish accent. To be fair, though, the abysmal script seldom helped. Sandler, on the other hand, is his usual chipper self. That is, he is most certainly not. A has-been video game champion turned home electronics technician, Sandler’s character is a dour ball of indifference whose infuriating ambivalence is matched only by the incompetence of Kevin James’ stint as President. It confounds me as to how this film was discussed for months, then years, at length with any number of producers, actors, and directors all worth a collective few hundred million dollars and still released without any of them waking up and realizing that producing such a parody level film unironically was a terrible idea.
Almost equally as terrible for the film’s overall quality as acting is its uninspired use of its only original cinematic element. Centered around fighting major characters from four classic arcade games (Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga, and Centipede) Pixels buckles under this creative weight and is forced to settle for simple city-breaking, building-smashing sludge. No different than a Bay-ian Transformers film, Pixels fails to do justice to the video games which inspired it.
Though the supersized video game avatars themselves may sizzle with vibrant colors and on-screen electricity, don’t be fooled by pretty lights into thinking Pixels offers anything more than your average over-budget, gimmick-centric, cash cow attempt. If you’re that starved for video game films, especially ones featuring ‘80s arcade icons, watch Wreck-It Ralph instead.