Starring: Adam Sandler, Michelle Monaghan, Josh Gad, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, Matt Lintz
Rated PG-13 for Some Language and Suggestive Comments
"Pixels" has a fantastic concept: having old-school video game characters run amok and try to destroy the world while a group of old gamers try to stop them. The action and comedic possibilities are limitless. Unfortunately, in this Sander-ized script, they're mostly unrealized.
In 1982, friends Brenner (Anthony Ippolito) and Cooper (Jared Riley) attend a video game competition. There, they meet a paranoid gamer named Ludlow (Jacob Shinder), whom they befriend, and Eddie (Andrew Bambridge), whom they do not. Eventually, it all comes down to hopeful Brenner and the egotistical Eddie, with the latter winning. A recording of the video game competition is sent, among other things, into deep space in the hopes of contacting an alien civilization.
Cut to today. Brenner (Sandler) is a tech installer and Cooper (James) is the President. A military base in Guam has just been attacked, and the alien challenger tells the world that they have been enlisted into a competition of playing 1980's video games (Pac-Man, Centipede, Defender, etc) for real, with the fate of the world as the prize. The impotent and dim-witted Cooper enlists Brenner, Ludlow (Gad) and issues a pardon to Eddie (Dinklage), who has been in prison for tech-related crimes, to save the world.
"Pixels" could have been great summer entertainment. It boasts a great high concept with lots of potential for action, comedy and a plethora of special effects. And it should have been, but then Sandler got his hands on it. That means in addition to Sandler (who despite growing up, hasn't become funnier or a better actor), we get all of his buddies on screen: Kevin James, Nick Swardson, Allen Covert, and his wife and kids. We also get ex-SNL writers Tim Herlihy (who writes but doesn't appear on screen) and Robert Smiegel (who appears on screen but didn't contribute to the script, or at least he wasn't credited).
I'm not a Sandler-hater. I've liked a lot of his stuff, including his early movies like "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore" that most critics dislike. But when a movie is heavily re-written and altered from its original form by the star (or someone else), it's usually obvious. And boy does this ever reek of it. From the casting (Kevin James as the President? Come on! According to director Chris Columbus, James' casting was inspired by Chris Christie, but I'm sure Sandler had a hand in it based on his history with the actor and of meddling) to the lines (one-liners versus concepts), Sandler's meddling is obvious. Just look at poor Jane Krakowski. A hard-working actress since the early 80's plus a star spot on the hit show "30 Rock," and she's only given token screen time and lines? What?
That said, there is a lot to like about "Pixels." For one thing, it's occasionally funny. The funniest bit, which involves Pac-Man's creator, played by Denis Akiyama, was given away in the trailer (and lacks the timing present in the advertising), but there's plenty of other stuff that's worth some yuks, including a bit with veteran tough guys Brian Cox and Sean Bean that I won't give away. Plus Michelle Monaghan is in it, and if you can get her to appear, you've done at least one thing right. Peter Dinklage, however, is a disappointment. Either his lines are badly written or he's not as funny as Sandler and Columbus think he is. Probably both.
With "Pixels," it's a case of it having some good stuff, but just not enough to justify the ticket price. It's a perfect Netlix movie, however.