Pixels – Review

“PIXELS”

I like video games, I don’t like Adam Sandler. What happens when you put those two together? That’s what I was about to find out!! To be honest with you, I do have a complete contempt for Adam Sandler, especially based on his last few movies like, Just Go With It, I Now Pronounce you, Chuck and Larry, Jack and Jill, Bucky Larson Born to Be a Star etc. The list just goes on and on. Let’s face it, the man is not completely without merits, he has some good films in his repertoire, mainly Happy Gilmore which at least did feel competently made and directed and he has had some success with his straight drama like Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, where he played A New York firefighter who lost his family in 9/11. It did look like Adam Sandler was trying to make a bit of a comeback, mainly because he was taking advice from some of his critics and starting to work with acclaimed directors. The problem is, he chose to work with them around the time they weren’t making very good films! This is most obvious with the two films he made last year, Men Women and Children, which did disastrously at the Toronto Film Festival and was both critically panned and had terrible Box Office, grossing little both here and in the States, and The Cobbler which came out in the UK, a few weeks ago and has had a similar pounding from the critics. You could make an argument that this film is potentially Adam Sandler trying to make a comeback, since he is working with another acclaimed director this time, Chris Columbus, who directed the first two Home Alone and the first two Harry Potter Movies, however there is still the unholy mark of the Happy Madison label at the front of this, so yes take it out, it looks like Sandler is trying to play half and half, his usual, make whatever people obviously pay for, so it’s a good excuse to hang out with my mates whilst also trying to work with an acclaimed director and judging by his future filmography, it looks like he is leading more towards the former in the coming years. With all that being said though, with Columbus in the director’s chair I was hoping that there was some possibility that this film could still surprise me!!

Pixel’s plot goes, that in 1982 NASSA launches a probe into space containing footage of several parts of human culture including a famous video game tournament. Over 33 years later the probe is discovered by Aliens who see the video games as Earth’s challenging them to war and send their forms of the video games to attack Earth and if Earth loses three times in a row it’s game over! President Cooper (played by Kevin James) along with DARPA Chief Violet (played by Michelle Monaghan) recruit two Pro Gamers from the tournament, Brenner (played by Adam Sandler) and Ludlow, aka the Wonder Kid (played by Josh Gad) to put a stop to the Alien menace, but they are going to need help from the Video Games tournament’s champion, Eddie, aka The Fire Blaster (played by Peter Dinklage). Let’s get the one piece of criticism that I had heard about this film, when the feedback came out after its release in the States, yes, this film is a complete rip off of the Futurama Episode, even down to some of the games featured, mainly Pac man and Space Invaders. Space Invaders, though, doesn’t get much of a mention in this Movie. So the marketing had been kind of a lie on that part. On the angle of the marketing, I have no idea what market this film is aimed at. I thought this might have been aimed at the young adult and teens comedy, like a few of the Happy Madison films are made for, is it made for older immature man children, is it aimed for children of the 80’s as there area lot of references to the 80’s in this film? I think the film is mainly aimed at children, which is especially evident with the 12a rating, but it has a PG13 rating in America and I think most of this film’s appeal to children is rather inadvertently expected. The 12a rating does allow the children to go in with their parents if they are under the age of 12 and I noticed there were a lot of young kids at my screening. I think this goes in to the mis-representation that parents have, that video games are children’s toys, where as I am pretty sure that a large amount of the video games market are 14 to 32 year olds, but that’s beginning to branch out nowadays and lots of people play video games, so potentially it has a large market for a large audience especially with the growing Retro gaming movement. Unfortunately I don’t think this will satisfy any of them! It tries to do a similar thing that Wreck It Ralph did in trying to appeal to gamers and give something for a general audience who don’t necessarily play video games. However, whereas Wreck It Ralph largely hit both, Pixels doesn’t seem to hit either! The jokes aren’t Nerdy enough to get much from the gamers and I am pretty sure that a lot of the references in the video game creations put in the film are going to go over a lot of people’s heads. Also, unlike Wreck It Ralph they did not get as many licenses for this film. NAMCO gets quite a few of their games in there, Nintendo gets a couple and use of its logo as well as Donkey Kong and a 5 second shot of Mario and a 10 second shot of the Duck Hunt Dog. Konami gets a few games in there, but actually has refused its logo to be used, which is rather weird. Not to mention, Atari gets a couple in there as well but then again product placements in Adam Sandler films are not exactly new and this one isn’t much better. For example, ‘Mini’ get a few scenes that look like car adverts, honestly!! In fact the whole Pac Man sequence in New York could probably be a car advert! They even kind of make fun in the scene involving the game’s Centipede in Hyde Park, where a General, played by Sean Bean, to not cause the public to panic, claims that the whole thing is a beer advert, yes, that joke would have worked if it had been written and performed better! The marketing has also relied on several other fronts, it bills the film as being an action comedy, that’s a lie! This is a comedy through and through! It’s not much different to most of Adam Sandler’s films in recent memory. In fact the opening of this feels very similar to films like Happy Gilmore, The Longest Yard, even Now I Pronounce you Chuck and Larry, and it doesn’t feel that much different even up to the Alien shot and even then it feels similar on a lot of levels.

The cast definitely plays this like a normal movie of a sort, but it’s on a lot of levels really bizarre. I would say these are going to be caricatures of nerds, but they haven’t even really bothered on that front. The Big Bang Theory has much better interpretations of Nerds than this film does! Adam Sandler, Kevin James and Josh Gad are all just playing big man children. It’s not much different to any other Adam Sandler role like in Grown Ups and again like most critics it’s something I would like to see him move away from. He has been playing this role for ages, for goodness sake man, you are in your late 40’s!! Grow Up!! I complain about movies on the internet and even I feel more mature than you, and by the time this review goes out I will have just turned 25!! This also isn’t helped by the fact that these characters aren’t even that likeable, especially considering that they seem like they are just playing themselves. Josh Gad really plays himself, if not a more closeted virginal conspiracy theorist version of himself, which gets really old really fast. Adam Sandler is playing himself, though he does work for an organisation named NERD Technology which gives Sony a few more product placements including several for Playstation 4 (though that’s hardly surprising considering Sony distributed the movie). As I said before though, it claims to be an action comedy, this is a comedy with some action sequences attached to it. There is only about three or four in the entire movie and they are very short and very sporadic which is not surprising considering this film only comes in at 106 minutes. The comedy is not that great, especially when they are ripping off jokes from Futurama, South Park and even The Big Bang Theory again. Yes I may sound like I am bashing The Big Bang Theory, but I actually do kind of like that. It’s one of the few American comedies that I am really watching a lot of at the minute. This also feels really bizarre. It’s very clear that Chris Columbus has directed this are there are a few of his strengths and weaknesses turn up in this film but it also feels like he was half absent for the film because Adam Sandler feels more like he is in control of the movie. As usual, half the lines feel like him and Kevin are improving and assume that they are working with Dennis Duggan again who let’s them get away with this. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few falling outs on the set between Chris Columbus and the cast. On that front the jokes are really not funny!! I laughed at a couple of them and only one of them I actually thought was an decently written joke, the rest, the only time I got a slight laugh out, I felt awful because I realised that was not funny and I was purely laughing because the rest of the people around me were. You know the sort of laugh, you do it initially, then you sort of realise, that wasn’t even a good joke, not even close!! By the last portion of the film, it’s not even getting to that stage, it’s just desperate at this point to make you laugh! It doesn’t really work. Including Eddie’s so called love interest who are taken up by two celebrity cameo’s which I won’t spoil, it’s just so random. Who thought of that combination of women, it literally takes two women almost at random. It’s like, which weird cameos can we get hold of, it’s almost like they went through the phone book, it feels like something that someone would play in a game of Cards Against Humanity, it’s that random!! The film also has many more 80’s references than it does video game references, which again will alienate a lot of people to the film. Again, Wreck It Ralph was once again better at this because it actually showed the interesting evolutionary gap between modern games and classic retro games. This one doesn’t even really attempt to do it, it just feels like a retro gaming snob whose constantly going ‘video games were better in my day’. Grow up, there are good video games out today, you just have to look for them, but the only modern video game we see the entire time is The Last of Us, further giving Sony more product placements! Thus further boosting Playstation4. It never really goes with it and the explanation of the young kid character played by Matt Lintz doesn’t really fly. The other characters really either, Peter Dinklage plays a very unlikeable character and Michelle Monaghan has absolutely not personality and she has no chemistry with Adam Sandler’s character, in fact they are not really playing characters!!

Peter Dinklage is the only one who really tries to play a character so I am just going to refer to them by their acting names from this point on! Michelle Monaghan is just playing the usual Adam Sandler love interest, so she has the same amount of personality. Kevin James’s personality seems to go back and forth every once in a while and when he does have one it’s really annoying which can also be said for Josh Gad and of course Adam Sandler is just playing Adam Sandler, so you know what to expect from that one. I also think they didn’t have a great Nerd consultant on standby because half of these video game characters don’t look like the video games they are meant to represent I had trouble recognizing half of these characters and some of them are drastically out of date! The film makes it very clear that the Aliens have got their information on video games from the satellite, but that was sent up in 1982, but the Duck Hunt Dog appears in one of the scenes, that game was made in 1987, you were five years out!! Also if you are a fan of Mario, he is only in this for 5 seconds in the background. Man this film is annoying! Also, if you are wondering what the Aliens look like, don’t, this might be a spoiler, but they never turn up on camera, not once, we never find out what they look like so it gives us absolutely no connection to our villains of the piece. The video game characters have virtually no presence, because they are barely on the screen because of Adam Sandler and his friends doing their tired nonsense and playing very un-likeable characters. This plot was just a bore. It was entertaining the children around me, but they are the only ones who will be entertained by this because it a very brief action film. It doesn’t really have much to offer audiences who have seen this kind of thing time and time again; it doesn’t really hit any other market. The only reason this film is a 12a is to get that market. In short it’s not that funny and it’s not really that entertaining. It’s just kind of there!.

As for the Actors, well I kind of can’t go into that much detail as the film was so boring and nothing really happened in it so I didn’t really have that much to talk about on that front. Adam Sandler is as terrible as ever, he’s getting really boring in these parts, he’s not even trying to be a Nerd, he’s just being himself. There are only so many times you can iterate that. Kevin James is really not an actor I enjoy, he is very poorly cast as the president. But then on the way home I remembered that the Americans are possible about to elect Donald Trump (if you’re reading this in America please don’t vote for that idiot), so I wouldn’t be surprised if they elected Kevin James!! Josh Gad, I would not be surprised if he turns up at the Razzie’s next year because between this and The Wedding Ringer he has had an awful year, he is not a very funny comedian and is easily the worst part of the film. Michelle Monaghan, I haven’t really seen her much before this, didn’t really care much for her performance in this and is horribly miscast as Sandler’s love intrest, overall don’t really care! Now as for Peter Dinklage, well, I was really expecting him to bring some dignity back to this and actually get some funny lines in there, but he is barely on it. It’s not like he is not used to playing an un-likeable character, but he can really take those sorts of roles and really work with them. In this one he feels really disengaged from his part and most of the jokes he has to do are delivered so poorly it doesn’t really work. I should find this character really funny, but I don’t. I think the directors and writers just said ‘get me anyone who was in Game of Thrones’ so they had some star power behind this that nerds would recognise. This just adds further to the fact that this cast is really over qualified. There are a few cameos, more specifically Dan Ackroyd and Sean Bean, the former of the both who just does nothing and is purely there to say ‘oh look, it’s Dan Ackroyd’! They are obviously two of the famous cameos at the end. I also think there was a plan for a cameo for the creator of Pac Man that fell through, because Professor Iwatani (played by Denis Aklyama), who gets a few lines in there, but not too much. Also weirdly Brian Cox is in this one (the actor, not the musician turned scientist) playing an general in the American army, granted he gets some of the few funny lines in there, but he still feels really over qualified. I couldn’t figure out who played the Madame Prime Minister of England in this, but like most of the British cast she is basically there to be a British stereo type and it’s really not funny, I am getting sick of this now, though granted she does get one of the few funny lines in the entire film. There is also an actor playing Q*bert, but I have no idea who is playing him, as I can’t find anything on the IMDb page.

Incidentally, just giving a voice to Q*bert feels wrong, which is why I was glad in Wreck It Ralph he didn’t receive one, and here it doesn’t really work. The character gets really annoying really fast, granted at first it’s very entertaining, but then you want it to stop, FAST. Also the Q*bert character plays part in the most horrific ending for this film. Once again the cast made of Adam Sandlers usual rubbish and actors that are seriously too over qualified for the film that they are in, oh and as usual the kid characters aren’t that great, though granted Matt Lintz as Matty is a step above the normal standard for child characters in Adam Sandler movies.

The action scenes were better than I was expecting them to be. They are not great, don’t get me wrong, and there are only a few of them in the entire film, more specifically a shoot out around the games centipede in Hyde Park, a Pac Man car chase in New York city and film’s climax is a play through of Donkey Kong, and that is not a spoiler, this film is really destroyed by its trailers, there is virtually nothing in this film that wasn’t in the trailers, except the jokes. They are very heavily reliant on the CGI and it’s clear the actors don’t really know what they are doing because the effects are gonna be added in later. The action scenes also kind of create a few plot holes, how did the government develop this light gun which can actually damage the Aliens in a short space of time and where did they get the technology to do it?? In fact where did they get the technology to do half these things, it’s never explained. The special effects are rather woeful, I know they are based on the 80’s video games but they don’t look like their pixilated counterparts, with the exception of the Pac Man model and Donkey Kong model which both at least resemble their video game counterparts, they are rather well done at that time but the rest of the time you can barely tell what character they are meant to be I had a hard time telling anything from any of these, they just look like blocking messes. I would have commented on the Aliens’ design, but as I mentioned, we don’t see them.

This film is available in 3D and it was actually marketed as being better in 3D, though I saw this film in it’s 2D version and I would reckon the 3D version is probably better, there are quite a few of the effects which don’t translate that well in to the 2D version. In fact a couple of them outright fail!! Especially at the beginning, it’s very clear that the film makers want this to be seen in 3D format. The 2D version was at least serviceable and some of the effects were halfway decent. The Q*bert effect is pretty good which is a good thing considering we hang around with him more than any other character. The effects aren’t incredibly terrible, but I would hardly say they were the best I have seen this year, and I think the standard could have gone up markedly. It also doesn’t help as the effects seem to jar with the rest of the film. Because the rest of the film feels like an Adam Sandler piece, it feels very bizarre that we suddenly get into these action sequences with these Pixilated beings that all look like they are made up of several versions of the Tesseract in the Avengers movie and it all just feels like such a mess. That’s an allegory for the film in itself.

The movie is a mess. It doesn’t really work on any level. The action is not that great. The comedy is not really good at all. The special effects don’t work. It doesn’t really hit a market because it’s not Nerdy enough for Nerds, and the humour is way too juvenile so will only entertain fans of Adam Sandlers previous comedies or children and even then it will not appease Adam Sandler fans because the rating doesn’t allow them to do enough swearing or his usual lowest common denominator gags that somehow entertain people. The 3D effects mean that the 2D version which I saw didn’t really work which will limit it’s appeal on DVD and the cast is either really awful or too over qualified for this film and poorly directed. It’s just a mess on every level!! I didn’t find it very funny and I didn’t find it very thrilling. I was just bored by it and I was glad to go. It just doesn’t work on any level. I am probably going to forget about it as soon as I have finished this review. There are several continuity errors, plot holes and a couple of video game characters that were made after 1982 that turn up in the film inexplicably. They just didn’t care!!

So what are your thoughts on Pixels? Did you like it or, like me, you didn’t. You can leave a comment or answer this weeks question, which is:

“Do you prefer classic video games or modern games?”

Please leave a comment, I will be happy to hear your thoughts on this one.

Well once again we are going to have a weeks break. There will be no review next Friday, but please come back on 4th September when I will be celebrating One Year of the Axia Film Society by reviewing the last of the DC Animated movies to come out this year “Justice League: Gods and Monsters”.

Thanks for reading all my reviews in August. I hope they entertained you. Remember you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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The Next Axia6th July 2022
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