I walked into Pixels expecting to hate it. My expectation level was so low I thought this could be the first movie I walked out of since The Animal. Well, I didn’t walk out.
Adam Sandler plays Brenner, yet another schlub-turned-hero that’s a staple of the Sandler repertoire. This time he’s the 1982 runner-up ‘best gamer’, losing to Peter Dinklage’s Eddie in the final round. Yes, the first fifteen minutes of the film show their childhood in order to highlight just how damn good at classic video games he was.
Now it’s 30 years later and his job is to go from house to house and install new electronics as an employee of this world’s version of the Geek Squad. Meanwhile his best friend “Wookie” Cooper (Kevin James) is President of the United States. Yes, in the Pixels universe Kevin James can be President.
Before the plot kicks off we of course have to be introduced to Brenner’s love interest, Violet (Michelle Monaghan), a woman whose husband left her for a 19 year old yoga instructor named Sinnamon. No that is not a typo. He meets her when installing a new TV and gaming console for the house, which interestingly has the best ‘acting’ of the movie as Sandler’s character talks video games with Violet’s son Matty (Matt Lintz). During this brief scene I was reminded of the fact that Mr. Sandler can act, he just chooses not to most of the time.
Eventually things go to shit as an alien race attacks the planet disguised as classic video game characters. Turns out the aliens had seen an old NASA probe filled with 80’s paraphernalia, including video game footage, and had taken it as a hostile challenge. Now if the aliens win 3 ‘games’ they get Earth, and if humanity wins then the aliens will capitulate.
Of course the world’s military is not prepared to fight classic video game characters so it’s up to Cooper, Eddie and the worst stereotype of the lonely, creepy gamer in Ludlow (Josh Gad). How horrible of a character is Ludlow? Well, his only goal in life is to somehow find a way to make a classic video game heroine come to life and marry him. Every time Ludlow is on screen I cringed. Physically cringed.
Based on a short film by Patrick Jean, the full-length film has about as much plot and character development. Sandler just says his lines, Kevin James is a putz, Josh Gad is creepy, Michelle Monaghan is barely two-dimensional because Happy Madison productions don’t seem to care about women, and even Peter Dinklage’s character is only moderately interesting but that’s mostly because his accent is...weird.
Yet I didn’t hate the movie. There were a few tiny moments of actual humor and the special effects were legitimately neat. It’s not good by any stretch of the imagination but it failed to be the rotten cesspool of filth I expected it to be. So that’s...a win?