So I finally got around to watching Adam Sandler’s new movie Pixels. Having been a Sandler fan since his days on SNL and first comedy album in the early 90’s, I was a little put off by the reviews. While I still enjoy Little Nicky to this day, despite it being generally panned, the Grown Ups franchise even being a franchise already showed Sandler joined Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock in the family-friendly genre.
Pandering to the Game Community
The first time I even heard of Pixels was at this year’s annual Electronics Entertainment Expo in June. As the premiere gaming industry event, this seemed like an obvious place to promote the film, however, instead of even a trailer, they only gave out shoddy Minecraft-Wayfarer ripoffs you can find in every gas station and convenience store.
I would’ve thought at least Adam Sandler could’ve showed up to E3, maybe even making a Pixels video game. With neither happening, it can’t possibly be a good video game movie. There was no excitement at a video game industry show in which EA spent 20 minutes of their press conference talking about a freemium Zynga phone game featuring minions.
Pixels now marks Happy Madison’s second video game-related film (after Grandma’s Boy), and while the previous film tapped into stoner humor, Pixels is aimed directly at younger kids. When compared against Casablanca, I can see the problem critics seem to have with the movie.
However, as a children’s movie, I think it generally works, despite my initial hesitation to watch it. Chris Columbus certainly directed as good a film as Harry Potter, Goonies, Gremlins, or Home Alone. The cornball plot holes are certainly no more intellectually insulting than those in Jurassic World.
Enjoy for What It Is
Movie-going audiences are used to seeing superheroes, dinosaurs, and monsters destroy the world, from major cities to small towns. Drawing mostly from Independence Day for inspiration, Pixels centers around the President of the United States (Kevin James) and his old friend, Sam Brenner (Sandler), whose childhood friendship from the arcades spans through adulthood, despite Brenner only being a cable repairman.
Brenner was amazing at figuring out simplistic AI patterns in old video games, and entered in the 1982 world video game championship, where he came in second place to those damned Lannisters (Peter Dinklage) in the form of Eddie Plant.
The event is televised by NASA and included in a time capsule sent into outer space. When received by aliens, they assume it’s a challenge and accept, attacking earth by following the challenge rules from the video game championship. Of course, by the time Brenner convinces POTUS of this, two cities are destroyed, and they’re on the final round.
Aliens attack by pixelating and seemingly disintegrating everything in their path. The challenges are in the form of 1982-era arcade games like Centipede, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, and Asteroids. In preparing a response, the U.S. government has Brenner and their other video game nerd friend, Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) train some Navy Seals in arcade combat.
Up to this point, the movie seems to be still somewhat on the rails, so long as you can believe Kevin James as President. Sure, all the characters are stereotypical, but not to the kids likely watching the film. This doesn’t need to be breakthrough filmmaking – it just needs to compete with Nickelodeon and Disney Channel content. It succeeds in this aspect.
Great Effects with Obvious Twists
The romantic subplot with Michelle Monaghan was rom-com cute enough, and Sandler and James have the kind of on-screen chemistry you’d expect from the duo. They remain relatively serious despite very weird things happening, helping keep this ridiculous world at least somewhat believable.
When the aliens appear in the form of giant pixelated video game monsters (and videos resembling 1982 Americana), and it’s unclear what their natural shape is, but the U.S. government manages to devise light-based lasers that can destroy them, incorporating a little Americanized 007 into the mix.
The attacks are actually happening worldwide, and the U.S. government actually gets permission before occupying India to defend against another attack. Unfortunately, these top-of-the-line-can-learn-anything-in-a-week Seals somehow fumble and can’t hold up under the pressure of fighting aliens. Shooting is too hard because the enemies are now larger and brighter than ever, so a team of trained Navy Seals is now choking under the pressure.
Now it’s time for Adam Sandler to step up and single-handedly destroy the invading army until he needs help from his other nerd friend.
Now it just feels like we’re parodying Shia Lebouf, and the rest of the movie is mostly spent enjoying how cool some of the graphics are. The artistic direction really makes this movie visually appealing. The plot just continues to go further off the rails, with Eddie Plant using cheat codes to defy time and space to win the same way he did when they were kids (even though Dinklage plays himself as a kid, so it feels like he’s an adult).
Sandler is eventually inspired by realizing he would’ve been the champ, had Plant not cheated, and he’s now able to overcome the invading army in the final invasion that’s set off by Plant’s cheat. He saves the planet, wins the girl, and gains everyone’s respect. Inspiring messages for a kid’s movie, and certainly more morally sound than Billy Madison (also a great movie), though fueling the ridiculous “I’ll be discovered” attitude people seem to have.
As long as you understand it’s made for kids and don’t allow the plotlines to insult your intelligence, Pixels is a better movie to watch a million times on repeat than some other family-friendly stuff. It’s just as worthy as The Wizard, Wreck-It Ralph, and Video Games: The Movie on any gamer’s movie playlist.
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has appeared on Fast Company, Huffington Post, The Street, Hardcore Droid, Cannabis Now, and more.