Pixels is exactly what it promises: a movie where video games have come to life, and Adam Sandler and friends, former arcade champions, are the only ones who can save the Earth. In other words, it’s dumb summer fun, something to goggle at while sitting in a dark, air-conditioned theater.
I’ve put the trailer at the bottom of this post, but I think it gives away too many of the cool effects and plot points, such as they are. (The second one is even worse.)
The movie isn’t great. Too much time is spent getting to the point we’re all waiting for, watching Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, and Peter Dinklage battle glowing, animated characters, assisted by Michelle Monaghan (thankfully given much more to do than I expected) and Qbert. Similarly, too many scenes are too long so that Sandler can say things meant to be wisecracks but are notably unfunny.
He’s the biggest problem with the film. Sandler only appears to have one emotional note, that of apathy. He says what he’s supposed to say, but no matter what it is, he gives off the air of uncaring remove. He is unable to project sincerity, which damages the scenes where he needs to be emotional in some way. Particularly unpleasant is his meeting with Monaghan’s character, which should have the love/hate snap of a classic screwball but winds up uncomfortable. I wish someone else had been in his role, someone like Bradley Cooper, perhaps.
There are points that could have been made about the trap of young achievement — three of the four male leads are handicapped by early praise that damages their ability to achieve anything once they’ve grown up. The film is wish fulfillment, the imaginative fantasy of any boy who thought “I wish there was a way for my ability with video games to mean something.” That these games are 30 years old allow for even more comment on nostalgia, but nothing’s done with any of these themes. The whole just lays there as the audience waits to see more of the set pieces promised in the trailer.
It’s also unfortunate that a movie that bothers to correctly name the inventor of Pac-Man, Professor Iwatani, has a major plot point turn on a factual error. There were two cameos, that I won’t spoil, that tickled me, and the creatures and the pixelation effect are cool to see, but overall, this film is merely a time waster. (Disclaimer: I work for Sony, who released this, but in a different division from the movie arm.)