At this point some nice things need to be said about “Pixels.” To start with, whatever flaws this movie may possess, understand that it’s not two hours long. Secondly, at no point does the cast drag a large river turtle out of the water, cut off its head and disembowel it for an uncomfortably prolonged amount of time. Thirdly, 9/11 widows are not disparaged in any way. In fact, they’re not even mentioned which is a relief because any mention of 9/11 widows does not belong in a movie in which Q*Bert pisses on his own feet. And lastly, in every frame of “Pixels,” Michelle Monaghan’s face boldly announces that it is here and it is 39 years pretty.
But, with all of that said, it is now time that we put all of our nice words away in a drawer so they’re not sullied by all of the tough words tumbling out of our mouths and onto our keyboards where they’ll eventually take shape as “Puke-sels” or “Shit-sels” or any other deliciously clever take on the title “Pixels.” “Pixels” is very, very, no-good. Bad, even. It’s worse than you could possibly imagine because unlike the majority of Adam Sandler’s recent output, “Pixels” seems — when the concept was pitched, at least — like it was intended to be an actual movie and not some thinly veiled attempt to trick Sony into bankrolling Sandler’s family fun trip to Hawaii (for more on Hawaiian vacations unsuccessfully posing as movies, watch “Just Go With It.” If you enjoyed that and wondered as to what Sandler’s vacation to Africa was like, check out “Blended”).
As premises go, the one found in “Pixels” is solid. An alien race invades earth after misinterpreting a video feed of classic arcade games as a declaration of war. As the aliens attack under the familiar guise of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and others, it’s up to a trio of washed-up gamers (Sandler, Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad who is clearly here because Jack Black is still too expensive and Chris Farley is far too dead) to save the day. Basically it’s “Mars Attacks” meets “The King of Kong” But this seemingly unbeatable concept is undone by a couple of factors. Echoing the inessential blandness he brought to “Grown-Ups 2” and “Bedtime Stories,” Tim Herlihy’s script functions as the written equivalent to an empty shrug. In “Pixels”, no easy joke is left unsaid (British people talk weird! Horny dwarfs are horny! Mullets continue to happen! Martha Stewart probably has had sex at some point and that counts as a joke!) and watered down ’80s nostalgia rips open old wounds as it rubs Max Headroom, Journey and the dog from “Duck Hunt” into them.
Even worse, Sandler has officially stopped trying. Watching him act in this film is like watching a co-worker passive aggressively go through the motions as they’re forced to work a 4-hour shift on their day off. Begrudging but sleepy, Sandler appears to be barely fighting off the Ambien he seems to have taken before the cameras started to roll. It’s a career low in a career filled with an endless series of lows.
Based very loosely on a short film (that, in turn, was inspired by a segment on “Futurama”), “Pixels” is a joyless exercise in lazy cynicism. A plot-hole riddled affair (Didn’t know that you can become a stunt driver just by being really good at video games. Also, apparently you can enter cheat codes into your car’s steering wheel and it can teleport? I guess?) so dire that not even the combined powers of Dinklage (incidentally, what is up with his performance? Is he doing Will Ferrell as Billy Mitchell as Hulk Hogan? What is he doing?) and Brian Cox can save this film. Between this and the unfettered racism on the set of his upcoming Netflix movie “The Ridiculous 6”, I think it’s finally time we made good on our promise and exiled him to that same barren, wind-swept rock in the Atlantic Ocean where we left Rob Schneider.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad
Director: Chris Columbus
Weekender Rating: V