I am not a huge Adam Sandler fan. Every now and then, I will like one of his films (Bedtime Stories, for example), but most of his films just don’t click for me. Pixels caught my eye, though, because of the classic arcade games and characters it features.
The film starts off in 1982, with Sam Brenner (played by Anthony Ippolito) entering an arcade game championship and getting defeated in the final by the flamboyant and obnoxious Eddie Plant. Thirty-three years later, Brenner (played by Adam Sandler) is a technology installer (think Geek Squad), and his childhood friend—Cooper, played by Kevin James—is now President of the United States and in need of help from Brenner when thinks he recognizes the aliens that just attacked a military base Guam: the base was defeated by the aliens from Galaga.
Turns out that the examples of video games that were sent to space on a probe in 1982 were taken as a declaration of war by the light-based aliens who are now invading earth. The aliens have already won the first battle, and they give an ultimatum: beat them in a best of three (with only two games left), or they will pixelize and destroy the Earth.
As crazy as the concept sounds, Pixels is actually pretty good popcorn fun. For anyone who grew up with the classic arcade games, the whole film is a fun nod to that era, and we get to see characters and pieces from Centipede, Q*bert, Arkanoid, Duck Hunt, Frogger, Joust, Pac-Man, and others.
Toru Iwatani, the creator of Pac-Man, makes a cameo (though the actual Pixels character “Toru Iwatani” is played by Denis Akiyama), and Matt Frewer plays a small part as his most iconic role. In an odd nod, Penelope Wilton appears as Britain’s Prime Minister, a role she previously played in Doctor Who. Crossover, perhaps?
The story is fairly weak in many places, and most of the characters are more caricatures than believable. Ludlow Lamonsoff, played by Josh Gad, was so over the top it was ridiculous. His character was sleazy, creepy, and totally obnoxious—every nerd stereotype magnified 100 times. The only character who was more obnoxious was Brenner’s nemesis Eddie Plant, played by Peter Dinklage, but it was a close race between the two.
In the end, Pixels doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you shouldn’t either. While it will never win any awards (other than perhaps a Raspberry), it’s a fun popcorn flick that requires very little deep thinking or pondering of the universe. If you liked Bedtime Stories, you will likely enjoy this film. As long as you don’t expect it to be more than it is, and if you’re a nerd, you will enjoy it for what it is.
Release Date: July 24, 2015 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Alcohol/Drugs: 2 (frequent social drinking, some smoking)
Language: 2 (some stronger, a lot of minor and deity)
Sexuality: 2 (innuendo, butt-slapping, making out)
Violence: 3 (pixelated violence, apparent death and dismemberment, video game violence)