Film Review – Pixels (2015)


Every now and then an Adam Sandler vehicle pops up from relative obscurity to remind you, in a grudging sort of way, that he can actually act and is occasionally funny. Just when you think the man is dead-and-buried you get a Punch Drunk Love or a Spanglish to wipe that smirk off your face and hammer home the message that he is not completely talentless. Pixels is not one of the movies.

Beyond the point where one could reasonably describe his career as ‘treading water’, Sandler is positively floundering as he despondently bobs from one Grown Ups movie to the next, pausing only to offend Native Americans. His latest attempt to arrest (or possibly hasten, I can’t quite tell) his own decline into irrelevance sees him fighting off an alien invasion which takes the form of 80’s video games. It has already been described elsewhere, in more fluid and respectable prose, as akin to watching a friend play a long and tedious game of Donkey Kong. In truth, it’s probably slightly worse because in that situation you can at least take some comfort from the knowledge that your turn to bash the buttons is never far away. Either that or you can just insert a new and more entertaining game. You can’t replace the cartridge while watching Pixels and you can’t reach for a new disc. You just have to sit and endure it.

Sandler and his pals Kevin James and Josh Gad, along with their loudmouth rival Peter Dinklage, are video game prodigies in the 1980’s, their formative years. In the present day, a race of aliens invades Earth in the guise of a bunch of retro games following a misunderstanding over a space capsule filled with the characters. Sandler, therefore, finds himself drafted in by James, who is inexplicably the President of the USA, to fight off the aliens and save the human race from an eternal game over.

Director, Chris Columbus hasn’t exactly got the most inspiring CV, but in fairness to him he’s managed to create a fairly entertaining looking film. The giant video game incarnations have a nice, sparkly, wooshy feel to them as they chomp their way through buildings, cars and people, reducing them to little piles of glowing blocks.

Beyond that, there’s precious little to enjoy. Sandler looks for all the world as if he’s given up on life, while Josh Gad is content to shriek his way through the entire movie. Michelle Monaghan pops up as a fiery US Army officer injecting some small sense of pep into the dialogue, but even she looks embarrassed to be involved. What’s worse is that her character gets embroiled in a despairingly obvious and utterly unbelievable romantic sub-plot with Sandler’s deadbeat hero; a move that feels like a monumental piece of self-flattery on Sandler’s part. Peter Dinklage has cultivated a reputation as a delightfully sardonic, darkly-comic character in Game of Thrones, but don’t expect anything similar here. He’s criminally wasted as a buffoonish games-cheat with an inflated sense of self-esteem and silly hair. Come to think of it, that’s not a million miles away from his Thrones character. How did they mess that up?

A bloated 80’s nostalgia-fest married to an ill-deserving, witless comedy vehicle, Pixels makes for fairly dispiriting viewing. Why not try removing its cartridge and blowing inside, maybe that will clear things up?

Chris Banks

Comedy, Sci-fi, Action | USA, 2015 |12A | 12th August 2015 (UK) | Sony Pictures Releasing |Dir.Chris Columbus | Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Brian Cox