a critiQal film review Pixels (2015)

Plot: When intergalactic aliens discover video feeds of classic arcade games and misinterpret them as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth, using the video games as the models for their assaults -- and U.S. President Cooper (James) must call on his old-school arcade friends to save the world from being destroyed by PAC-MAN, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Centipede, and Space Invaders. Joining them is Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten (Monaghan), a specialist supplying the arcaders with unique weapons to fight the aliens.

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When we first saw previews for Pixels, it looked like fun. A nostalgic trip through the games of the 80’s? Adam Sandler and Kevin James running the show? How could this miss?

Apparently, we weren’t among the majority with these thoughts, as the film didn’t even make it’s money back in theaters (in the US anyway). Now that’s it available for home viewing, we still wanted to give Pixels a chance. Would there be a reason this film did so bad in theaters, or would it be a pleasing surprise to watch?

Adam Sandler headlines the cast. Back in the 90’s, this seemed like a sure-fire thing, but after films like Little Nicky and Big Daddy (among many others), viewers started to shy away from Sandler starrers. He’s usually good for a laugh, even if his films started tending more toward the stupid with every turn. Thankfully, in Pixels, Sandler has stopped trying so hard to make people laugh. This character seems a bit less forced than a lot of his previous efforts – and a lot more likable.

Kevin James also reigns in a bit on the funny, playing it mostly straight as the US President. He still gets to laugh at himself (which is typical for James’ particular comedy persona) with some presidential gaffes caught on camera. Viewers should be able to catch glimpses of the character they loved in Hitch (2005), and that’s just right.

Peter Dinklage is a far cry from the Game of Thrones (TV) character viewers are used to seeing him as these days. He dumbs it down quite a bit to match the rest of the characters, and honestly, does it easily. Sure, he’s as one-dimensional as the rest of the characters, but for him it’s a refreshing change.

Michelle Monaghan, as is typical, is the love interest of the film. After showing she’s up to the task with both Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible III (2006)) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Source Code (2011)), flirting with Adam Sandler shouldn’t be a problem – and it isn’t. While the “moment” they share is silly, she’s good at showing her character slowly changing her mind about him – moving him from dumb to endearing.

Josh Gad, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. Annoying from the start, it seems like he’s trying to play a more amped-up (read that as “louder”) Jonah Hill. While Jonah Hill probably has his funny moments (although none immediately come to mind), Gad’s portrayal is just irritating. It’s easily the biggest disappointment in the film.

The storyline is just plain ridiculous, and full of plot holes, but for a film like Pixels, that’s kind of par for the course. The whole film is about bringing 80’s video games to life, and that’s all anybody is going to see it for anyway. Does it really matter why it’s happening? No. Does it matter that they seem to be able to invent technology in one day? Nah. Why does the second attack present no opportunity for humans to defend themselves (who is the opposing force if the enemy is the paddle from Breakout)? Honestly, it doesn’t matter.

With Pixels, the only thing that really matters is seeing those 80’s video games come to life on the screen in vivid, high definition color. And that they do in abundance. Whether it’s cars chasing a behemoth Pac-Man through the streets of New York City, or the characters jumping barrels to reach a raging Donkey Kong, the action is brought to vivid – albeit 8-bit – color.

Thankfully, except for Josh Gad, the characters – despite their one-dimension personas – manage to carry the viewers from scene to scene just like the video game heroes of yesteryear. And even though the happy ending is contrived, full of more plot holes, and entirely predictable from the start, there’s nothing like revisiting your childhood on-screen.

There’s a reason these video game characters are so recognizable – they are moments of our youth frozen in time like a memory. Even if we all weren’t video game champions like the heroes of Pixels were, the film should cause many a viewer to dust off their old Ataris and Nintendos, and give these old games one more go. Just for that nostalgia factor, if for no other reason.

All in all, Pixels, like the video game characters of the 80’s that abound within it, isn’t half bad – even if it (and them) are one-dimensional. Is it worth repeated viewings? Probably not – but it’s fun the first time.

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