“Pixels” is one of the most original and enjoyable movies of the year, as the all-star lineup of Adam Sandler, the red-hot Josh Gad (“Frozen”), Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan (“Source Code”) and Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) battle aliens in the form of giant classic video game characters. Director Chris Columbus (“Mrs. Doubtfire”, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”) has crafted a smart and often very funny summer action comedy.
“Pixels” is a Sandler “Happy Madison” production, but this time he didn’t co-write the script. Frankly, that may be one of the reasons why the film works so well. Sandler’s character – Brenner, was a video game wiz kid back in the 80s, as was his best friend, Cooper. Brenner was defeated at the ’82 Video Game Championships by his rival – Eddie, losing in a final round Donkey Kong battle. Footage of the competition was put into a time capsule by NASA and sent-up into space with other pop culture items, the idea being to share what America was all about at that time with any extra-terrestrial life that might be present in the universe.
Now, in present day, Cooper (James) is the bumbling President of the United States, and he and Brenner are still buddies. When the U.S. military base in Guam is attacked by an unknown force, Cooper brings-in Brenner and their other childhood friend/gamer Ludlow (Gad) and they determine that, yes, the world is being challenged to a life-and-death video game showdown by an alien species.
Yes, it’s a wacky, absurd and ridiculous premise. And it’s played that way from start to finish. “Pixels” is such an entertaining ride that being hung-up on the concept is a big mistake. Dinklage, as the grown-up Eddie, is released from prison to join the others in real-life combat with Pac-Man, Centipede and Donkey Kong in locations around the world. The visual effects are both cool-looking and very impressive, causing me, for once, to recommend that, if possible, you have to see this movie in 3D.
Monaghan, as Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten, assists the gamers while also becoming Sandler’s love interest (one of the film’s only predictable elements). Sandler, James (who has a relatively small role though he receives second-billing), and Dinklage all provide great lines. Congrats to the writing team and Columbus (I’m guessing there was much less ad-libbing than in most Sandler films). But it’s Gad who steals the show, and with perfect comedic timing, he makes you laugh-out-loud practically every time he’s on screen. And there are a few surprise cameos, including some via 80s video clips, that had the audience at the screening I was at howling in laughter.
“Pixels” is rated PG-13 for some language and sexual references. There aren’t nearly the same amount of adult jokes as in most Sandler movies, such as the “Grown Ups” films. That’s another reason why it works so well. And even though the current generation of 7-16 year-old gamers isn’t familiar with Tetris, Galaga and Q-Bert (who’s a legitimate and welcome supporting character in this story), everybody knows Pac-man and Donkey Kong, and everybody’s been waiting to have a great time at the movies this summer. Well – Game Over. “Pixels” is the winner!
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Pixels” gets a B+.
Running Time: 106 min.