In 1982, four kids competed in an arcade game championship which was videotaped and sent into space in a NASA probe. Now, one of them, Will Cooper (Kevin James), is the largely ridiculed President of the United States while his best buddy, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), never having realized his potential, works as a NERD repairman. When that old videotape is intercepted and interpreted as a threat by aliens who attack Guam, Cooper calls on his old gaming friends to fight off the invaders intent on turning the planet into "Pixels."
This witless expansion of Patrick Jean's short film by Tim Herlihy ("Bedtime Stories," "Grown Ups 2") and Timothy Dowling ("Role Models," "Just Go With It"), directed by Chris Columbus ("Home Alone," Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets") is like the second rate leavings of "Wreck-It Ralph" by way of an Adam Sandler family movie attempting to pre-board the rebooted Ghostbusters 80's nostalgia bandwagon. As Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant, Peter Dinklage (HBO's 'Game of Thrones') is a lot of fun and things do pick up somewhat during the film's climax, but getting there is a real slog.
Brenner meets Matty (Matt Lintz, "Kill the Messenger") when he's called out to install a new gaming system, a gift to distract from his parents' divorce. 'Whoa' is all Brenner can say when Matty's mom (Michelle Monaghan, "Source Code") comes out, but their 'moment' is spoiled when Brenner goes in for a kiss. Later when he's called to the White House, they'll meet again, Matty's mom revealed as DARPA's Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten, the woman who'll be tasked with creating the weapons Brenner, Ludlow (Josh Gad, "Frozen's" Olaf, TV's 'The Comedians') and Eddie will need when Centipede, Space Invaders, Galaga, Frogger, Tetris and PAC-MAN descend upon the earth.
"Pixels," which more accurately should have been called "Voxels," is as much a throwback as the games it embraces, a cheesy 80's style comedy that's pretty laugh free when Dinklage is MIA. Sandler acts like we're interrupting his sleep, at least foregoing his brand of scatological humor. There is a lot of setup, followed by three distinct battles. In London, Brenner and conspiracy theorist Ludlow take on Centipede, one of the creatures bombarding through an old woman's apartment. The President agrees to spring Eddie from jail, but is faced with a humorous list of demands by the mulletted inmate (one involves a dual date with Serena Williams and Martha Stewart, who both appear as themselves). But a secret Eddie's been hiding since 1982 causes their win over PAC-MAN in New York City to be forfeited, leaving Brenner, Ludlow and Van Patten to conquer Donkey Kong. Q*bert defects to the human side, becoming the heroes' quivering mascot. If that's really Josh Gad performing a Tears for Fears cover, and his Olaf and 'Book of Mormon' experience suggest that it is, it's impressive.
Special effects paint the games large scale, everything they encounter turning into glowing cubes (the film was converted to 3D). Communiques from outer space are delivered via shows sent on the tape, 80's versions of Madonna, Hall and Oates and Max Headroom lip synching threats. PAC-MAN inventor Professor Iwatani cameos in the arcade prologue (as does "Ghostbuster" Dan Aykroyd) and is played by Denis Akiyama ("The Pacifier," "Repo Men") in a New York City set scene homaging 50's sci-fi, then forgotten. The film also features a sputtering Brian Cox ("RED 2," TV's 'The Slap') as Admiral Porter, a what-is-he-doing-here Sean Bean (LOTR's Boromir) as a British Corporal, Jane Krakowski (TV's '30 Rock') as a decorative First Lady, "Spring Breakers'" Ashley Benson as Ludlow crush Lady Lisa of Dojo Quest and Tom McCarthy ("Little Fockers") as a robot. Sandler regulars including his wife Jackie, Allen Covert and screenwriter Tim Herlihy all appear in bit parts.
Robin did not see this film.
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