***1/2 (out of 5)
July 24, 2015
Adam Sandler as BRENNER
Kevin James as COOPER
Michelle Monaghan as VIOLET
Peter Dinklage as EDDIE
Josh Gad as LUDLOW
Matt Lintz as MATTY
Brian Cox as ADMIRAL PORTER
Directed by: Chris Columbus
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I come not to bury Adam Sandler, but to praise him. Yeah, I know there’s a lot of hatred for his and Kevin James’ movies, and that’s not entirely unearned. After all, if you look at the run of their films from 2009 on (including “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Grown Ups,” “Just Go With It,” “Zookeeper,” “Jack and Jill,” “That’s My Boy” and “Grown Ups 2”), there’s plenty of reasons to hate on these guys.
However, in the last couple years, there have been some changes. Sure, James was in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” earlier this year, but Sandler’s “Blended” from last year was a diversion from his standard character of late and more of a throwback to his rom coms with co-star Drew Barrymore. “Pixels” continues this trend by ditching the standard inexplicably-rich-guy-with-a-hot-wife role Sandler has been playing for the past half-decade.
There’s so much ire directed at Sandler now that I think a lot of people conveniently forget his earlier comedies like “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore,” as well as some of his dramatic work like “Punch Drunk Love” and “Funny People” (the latter of which I didn’t like, but I blame Apatow for that one more than I blame Sandler).
However, if you can get past a knee-jerk reaction to these guys on screen, “Pixels” can be a lot of fun.
Sure, Sandler and James are, indeed, in the film. And yeah, James plays the absurd role as the President of the United States. But “Pixels” switches things up from the worst of the worst and actually feels more like the enjoyable (yet still critically-panned) movies they made in the early-to-mid-2000s. And I’m okay with that.
In the film, aliens have attacked Earth in the form of classic 80s arcade games, thanks to a time capsule sent into space in 1982. As a result, the aliens have taken the form of Galaga, Breakout, Centipede, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. They have challenged Earth to battles, and the winner of three of the battles will emerge victorious. With the destruction of Earth on the line, the President brings together the top video game players from the early 80s to defend the planet.
Yeah, it’s a completely ludicrous premise, but it’s not meant to be a gritty reality thriller. Director Chris Columbus has handled his own fantasy-driven films, including the first two “Harry Potter” films and the “Percy Jackson” series. He also dips into his history as a comedy director (e.g., “Home Alone”) to make “Pixels” a whimsical and fun throwback to 80s culture.
The film is populated with a good supporting cast with Brian Co and Sean Bean playing the military heavies in straight-man roles. On the more silly side, we have Josh Gad (who I generally think is quite funny) and Peter Dinklage (who manages to channel a hilarious version of Billy Mitchell from “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters”) as the other video game champions. In fact, Dinklage shines as the anti-hero of the arcade defenders, stealing almost every scene he is in.
And if you’re still sour on Sandler and James, realize the real stars of this movie are the likes of Pac-Man and Q*bert, so the human heroes really don’t have as much screen time as you might expect. Sure, there are some video game anachronisms (like Tetris never being included in the 1982 line-up), and the finale of the movie isn’t quite as good as the battles in the middle, but these are acceptable losses for a movie this ridiculous.
In the end, “Pixels” is a fun, action-filled, nostalgic flick, and I enjoyed the heck out of it.