Writing off Adam Sandler movies as probable train wrecks before you even see them isn’t just a common practice, it’s also a wise one. For a star who seems to be fully entrenched in that phase of his career where he’ll sign on to any project as long as there’s a paycheck, Adam Sandler has shown he’s still capable of doing more than his usual underdog hero schtick, he just doesn’t want to. Films outside his comfort zone like Punch Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, and Funny People now happen with increasing rarity, and instead we’re now getting a non-stop parade of formulaic garbage like The Cobbler, Blended, Grown Ups, That’s My Boy, and so on. Pixels is now the latest atrocity on that list, and though it gets a couple laughs, the rest of the film is a wasteland of duds in a story based on a short film from 2010 (which deserved a better feature film adaptation than Sandler has given it).
Did anyone really think this was a great idea outside of the Happy Madison braintrust? Using the same writers that have helped churn out some of Sandler’s best and worst hits, Pixels makes Sandler down-on-his-luck tech support agent from not-Best Buy, Brenner, who still smarts from a childhood loss in the arcade game championships to a cocky rival gamer called Eddie ‘the Fire Blaster’ (Peter Dinklage). His job installing big screen TVs in random people’s homes introduces him to imminent divorcee Violet (Michelle Monaghan) who also ends up on Brenner’s team to stop a race of aliens that use classic 8-bit arcade characters to wage war on our world. Also on their team is Eddie, Brenner’s childhood friend and conspiracy theorist Ludlow (Josh Gad), and, eventually, the President of the United States (Kevin James). It’s important to note, casting Kevin James as the illiterate President of the United States might be the film’s best joke.
Shoved into the margins is a ridiculous amount of talent that’s all wasted by a script that did little to expand on the original short, including Dan Aykroyd, Jane Krakowski, Sean Bean, Brian Cox, Serena Williams, Martha Stewart, and more. If you were to cut out the usual Happy Madison folks (Sandler, James, Nick Swardson), and get some writers who haven’t settled for repeating the same mediocrity over and over, you could make a much better film with the talent left over. Instead, we have to watch Monaghan, Dinklage, and Brian Cox sludge through this embarrassment for 90 minutes. While I don’t normally mind a movie subplot where an overzealous military official gets his comeuppance, it helps if that happens at the hands of characters who aren’t idiots.
At its heart, Pixels should have some rewarding message about nerds, geeks, and indoor kids having their day, but that message never really shines through. The closest we get is that Sandler’s character isn’t as much a failure as he’s always thought due to a defeat in gaming as a kid, and the military types look like clods or angry cool kids on the sideline getting shone up by the weakling they mocked. It’s not much more than a mishmash of clichés tied together with some snazzy special effects and a rushed fairytale ending—except there’s a problem: the heartwarming ending isn’t about all of us, it’s about Sandler’s character being a winner and getting the girl. Where there should have been a meaningful message for kids, there’s nothing. This is just another movie Sandler made as an excuse to kiss a pretty woman. Once he got that, the rest of the story didn’t matter, and consequently so many opportunities fall by the wayside.
The biggest crime committed by Pixels isn’t that it’s just another opportunity for Adam Sandler to cash a paycheck for playing the same schmuck who gets the girl, but that in the hands of better writers and without Happy Madison’s involvement, this concept could have been adapted into a really cool movie. Instead Sandler sullied it and made it another in a long line of cookie-cutter disappointments.
After this, Adam Sandler doesn’t deserve to waste any more story ideas or money. He needs to retire and step far away from the reins of his company so better minds can take control.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
The movie may be awful, but Sony at least found a nifty extra to include on the Blu-ray: the ability to battle old school arcade monsters along with the movie on your phone or tablet. Otherwise the extras are pretty standard with featurettes on the classic video game characters, the one they made up as a love interest for Josh Gad’s character, production featurettes, and a sit-down with the creator of Pac-Man when he was on set for his cameo. The set also includes an Ultraviolet digital copy.
"Pixels" is on sale October 27, 2015 and is rated PG13. Action, Comedy, Sci-Fi. Directed by Chris Columbus. Written by Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling, Patrick Jean. Starring Adam Sandler, Brian Cox, Josh Gad, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan , Peter Dinklage.