Pixels (Sony Pictures Releasing/Columbia Pictures, PG-13)

pixels 75Pixels is a terrible film by a terrible director.




Pixels 500

Last year Adam Sandler took a critical drubbing for appearing in two bad films from otherwise-good directors: Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children and Todd McCarthy’s The Cobbler. Now he’s back in his wheelhouse—his new film, Pixels, is a terrible film by a terrible director. The terrible director in this case is Chris Columbus, who I’d rank neck and neck with Joel Schumacher for the most devoid of talent of any director in Hollywood (you don’t want me to get started on a tirade, but among countless other crimes, Columbus is responsible for the first two Harry Potter movies—easily the worst two of the eight—which set the wrong tone for what should have been an excellent series of films). But really, I like Sandler at least some of the time, and would happily watch Men, Women & Children and The Cobbler a dozen times each before watching Pixels a second time.

Almost every single thing is wrong with Pixels. It’s a movie that seems on the surface to be a kids movie, but is rated PG-13 (replete with “shit” usage and references to sex), and centers around early-80s video game characters one can only assume small children won’t recognize. There’s nothing wrong at making a stab at a family audience by throwing in material for the parents, but the humor in Pixels is sub-grade school idiocy. The film is chauvinistic and ethnocentric, endlessly afraid of The Other (in whatever form it may come—aliens, British people, Peter Dinklage). It has no credibility, makes no sense, has glaring errors all over the place, and is as insulting to its audience as any film I’ve seen in quite some time.

The premise is like a cross between Independence Day and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but with all of the humor, intelligence, innovation, and artistic merit of both films stripped away. After an opening sequence that shows us buddies Brenner and Cooper circa 1982 as competitive video game players (Brenner is the better of the two, but Donkey Kong is his Achilles heel), we jump forward 30-odd years to find that Cooper (played as an adult by Kevin James, who to my knowledge has never done anything of merit in his life) is now President of the United States. Brenner (the adult version of whom is played by Sandler) now installs home theatres as part of the “Nerd Brigade,” which appears to be modeled after Best Buy’s Geek Squad. Despite the disparity in their social standing, Cooper and Brenner still hang out, with Brenner getting special privileges and clearance at the White House. Soon after meeting a lovely cuckold by the name of Violet (Michelle Monaghan, literally the only person in the film whose performance is in the least bit redeemable), Cooper finds that Earth is being attacked by video game characters of the 80s, and he enlists Brenner to help him stop them.

Though I don’t generally like movies that appear to have been influenced by video games, there’s something of a new genre of “video game movies” where it’s less that the movie takes cues from the (lazy) video game method of telling stories and more that they’re firmly planted in a world of video games. The aforementioned Scott Pilgrim is the best-ever video game movie, and Wreck-It Ralph is another solid entry. Pixels is the worst one I’ve yet seen. Yes, worse than even those from the video game dark ages: The Wizard, Tron, The Last Starfighter. The special effects are uglier here than in those films, the characters less likeable, and anyone who knows anything about these games will immediately recognize liberties taken with the material.

To be fair, and much to my surprise, it did seem like the children in the audience at the press screening did enjoy the film. This only served to strengthen my resolve to never have children of my own. Pixels deserves to be buried in the desert, alongside all of those Atari 2600 E.T. cartridges. | Pete Timmermann

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