I have come to terms with the fact that video games had an integral part in my developmental years. I remember (to this day) the mystery of having to blow on the game cartridges to get them to work. I remember the devastation of not being able to play my Gameboy in the dark when I was supposed to be asleep. I still mourn the short, shining life of the Dreamcast. These things were my storybooks, and they had the added benefit of giving me insane hand-eye coordination. Along with movies, video games are considered sacrilege, and for the crime of blasphemy on both counts, I judge Pixels. Pixels is counting and preying on that nostalgic sentiment of the now forty-year-olds, but unfortunately, the grand majority of them have outgrown Adam Sandler’s juvenile sense of humor. That means that the only demographic this film will appeal to is the pre-pubescent/early teen crowd who are still young enough to guiltlessly appreciate Sandler’s brand of low-brow pandering.
The visual spectacle, soundtracked by period (80s) appropriate music, is the only part of the film that can be considered the slightest bit entertaining. That is thanks to the childlike wonder Chris Columbus brings to this childlike script. The refined, 8-bit graphics are colorfully entertaining until their charms eventually run out halfway through the film. Then you are left being forced to take a look at the story and the massive, sinkhole-sized gaps the visuals were meant to cover up. The 3D only made the film’s inadequacies that much clearer–like, why is this once peaceful society so quick to go to war when they see our video games? Or how did Dinklage’s character enter a cheat code in real life?
What about Gad’s pixelated infatuation being the only alien attacker going from 8-bit to real life female? The larger problem with that is the treatment of the women in this film, making one of their two female characters a high ranked military official who spends most of the time feeling insecure and being derided by other men, including those who were supposed to be her peers. If you thought that was bad enough, the other “female” actually becomes a non-speaking trophy wife for one of the other male characters. Even the female cameos in the film have the celebrities being downgraded from influential people in their respective fields to nothing but sexual objects used to reward the undeserving male characters. If the film gets anything right, it is why you shouldn’t vote Republican post-Obama, with Kevin James boasting (very believably) Bush-era intelligence.
The cast consists of a few Happy Madison film mainstays, like Adam Sandler and Kevin James, but has new additions in the form of an outlandishly neurotic Josh Gad and the epitome of American bravado in Peter Dinklage. Out of the four of them, the most competently brought to life would have to be Gad’s character, actually causing me to laugh once or twice. Sandler delivers his signature, low energy disdain for everything, while James joins along with his anticipated lovable dope routine. The most disturbing turn in the entire film came in the form of Peter Dinklage portraying a character that is such an ill-developed caricature that you can’t help but want to aggressively ask him, “Why?!”
There is an unintentional irony having Sandler playing a person who was at the top of their game decades ago. I know it is unintentional, because that would mean the film’s screenwriters had the foresight to give this film a depth it clearly did not have. Unless you saw actually paid extra to see this in 3D, which is the only overpriced depth you should expect to receive. [*Side Note: Do not pay extra for 3D. You’ll probably leave regretting you paid for this film, let alone spending extra money on it.]
At this point, most of us are suffering from Sandler Syndrome, which is the debilitating condition that comes from being bombarded by predictable, half-cocked stories with overused punchlines, tropes, and concussive, slapstick gags meant to appeal to children who find this form of overplayed physical violence endlessly entertaining. I’d compare it to playing peek-a-boo with a toddler. They never tire of it, but that is mainly due to their lack of worldly understanding. Unfortunately for us, we are all too familiar with what is happening by now.
I have no sympathy for any filmmakers that continually show us a complete lack and disregard for cinematic integrity and artistry. Every new film should be at the very least be an attempt to bring to life the artist’s new vision. Happy Madison and company try to deceive us by giving us the same trite films, only packaged a little differently with different characters and actors, but using the same formula. Like Sandler’s character, every film is a chance at greatness, a chance at redemption, but most of all, a chance to prove all of us wrong.
These man-child hero films haven’t worked since the late 90s. It’s time for Sandler’s comedy to evolve and show audiences and critics that there are still a few creative surprises left to be delivered; that the films will stop following their calculable formula for financial success and instead truly entertain. I continue voluntarily watching his films, including this year’s disappointing, but promising The Cobbler, in hopes that I will be proven wrong, forced to admit my mistake and eat my words while simultaneously praising Adam Sandler’s relevance in today’s cinema. That moment has yet to arrive. Sandler is similar to his character in Pixels, except, when he gets a chance to explore his full potential in his most recent releases, he ends up ruining the day rather than saving it. Instead, watch the entertaining short film it is based on. Otherwise, it’s Game Over.
RATING: ★ (1/10 stars)