Director: Chris Columbus
Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan
Duration: 106 mins
Class: PG
KRS Releasing Ltd

While watching Adam Sandler movies, I often get the feeling (among many other usually negative feelings) that he makes the movies primarily for himself and his friends – in this case Kevin James and Josh Gad – while always repeating the usual schtick.

Pixels is no different. The sense of a bunch of guys –emphasis on the guys – getting together to have a bit of a lark with little regard of their audiences permeates throughout.

That Sandler regurgitates the same annoyingly smug man-child character that has appeared in most of his films of late doesn’t help. What makes these issues even worse is that, at the heart of Pixels, lies a premise that could have been developed into a solid comedy and a nostalgia-infused trip to the 1980s and the start of the video-game craze, yet it ends up being a typically lame, uninspired Sandler vehicle.

We first meet Sam, Will and Ludlow (Sandler, James and Gad) as their younger selves in the 1980s. They spend most of their time – and Will’s sister’s hard-earned cash – at the video arcade. Sam is somewhat a genius at video gaming, but he is devastated when he loses the Arcade Game World Championships to Eddie ‘The Fire Blaster’ Plant (Peter Dinklage, easily the best member of the cast. as he adds some layers to his obnoxious character).

Unless he completely reinvents himself, it is game over

Although great things are expected of Sam, he grows up to become a home TV system technician, completely squandering his potential. One day, the world comes under fire by aliens who believe the time capsule sent into space decades ago consisting clips of video games constituted a declaration of war. And so the aliens attack, using said video games as models for their assault on earth. When something like this happens, who you gonna call? Well, it so happens that Sam’s best friend Will has grown up to be President (stranger things have been known to happen), and so he calls on Sam and his considerable gaming skills to save the world from impending doom.

It’s not the first time 1980s-era games have been used as the basis of a film – 2013’s animated blockbuster Wreck-It Ralph got there first. Pixels shares Ralph’s colourful effects, which proves to be the best thing about it. And, as someone whose total experience of gaming was sneaking a few rounds of a game on my brother’s Atari, I found the scenes involving the likes of Donkey Kong, Galaga, Frogger, Q*bert (who becomes a sort of mascot for our heroes), and Space Invaders attacking earth with wild abandon to be good fun.

There is something rather gleeful about seeing Pac-Man chomp his way across Manhattan. And, in the film’s only truly inspired moment, Pac-Man’s actual creator Professor Iwatani (played by Denis Akiyama) turns up to try and talk him down.

Yet, languor and aversion set in whenever any of the human characters are on screen, the film having absolutely no heart or humour to speak of. How many times must we witness Sandler’s lovable loser routine, with his shallow characterisation and flat delivery of his lines?

How can we like a character that immediately disses his potential love interest as a snob, because she rebuffs the amorous advances that he inflicts on her five minutes after meeting her?

For the whiff of misogyny that has blemished many a Sandler film is present here and, Michelle Monaghan as said love interest, does her best with the slight material she is given. As for the other women in the film, the usually funny Jane Krakowski has barely a line to say and, as First Lady, at one point has to ignominiously stand by her husband as he openly drools over another woman. How Serena Williams and Martha Stewart were somehow persuaded to appear as props in one of the male character’s sexual fantasies eludes me. It is almost too tiresomely obvious to be offensive.

Sandler has received mixed box office returns for his last few films, while critics and audience approval seems to be getting lower and lower with each release. One wonders when he will realise that unless he completely reinvents himself, it is game over.

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