Adam Sandler movies usually equate to foul language, plotless vacation movies littered with cameos of his friends, and general senselessness. At least in the last few years or so. So walking into Pixels, there wasn’t a very high expectation that it was going to be good at all, but it turns out that it exceeded expectations (which were admittedly at rock bottom, so really there’s nowhere to go but up) and the film has a family friendly entertainment value. It is below average, but has its moments.
Brenner (Adam Sandler) is obsessed with video games as soon as they opened the arcade near his house in the summer of 1982. Excelling at games like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Galaga, and Centipede, Brenner and his best friend Will Cooper (Kevin James) are always at the arcade. Entering in the year’s arcade championship, which was being filmed by NASA to send off to space, Brenner loses to Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage) at Donkey Kong.
Never getting over this loss, Brenner becomes a tech installer (think something along the lines of Geek Squad) and doesn’t accomplish his dreams of going to MIT. Cooper, now the president of the United States (only in this movie would Kevin James be the president), keeps encouraging him that he could be great but to no avail. But the opportunity for greatness reveals itself when Earth is suddenly attacked by pixelated aliens who found NASA’s video of the arcade championship and saw it as a threat of war. Naturally, the only people who can save the planet are Sandler and his group of old-school gamers, including Josh Gad as the semi-creepy Ludlow, who’s in love with video game character Lady Lisa (Ashley Benson) and Lt. Colonel Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan).
Suffice it to say, a movie with Adam Sandler in it doesn’t suck! That’s hard to come by these days. This is probably because this movie doesn’t necessarily feel like a typical Sandler movie. It isn’t fantastic, but it isn’t horrible either, and something kids especially (and of course anyone who lived on arcades growing up) will enjoy on some level. The humor isn’t funny per se and comes off sounding forced sometimes, but it can be silly enough to warrant small chuckles here and there.
The visuals and cameos of most every arcade game character from the early ’80s makes an appearance and to be completely honest, these are the spectacular parts of the film. This helps because while there is some action, it’s unremarkable and doesn’t last very long. There is the strange and awkward relationship between Sandler and Monaghan’s characters which doesn’t really do much for the movie. Perhaps with a different lead, the film could have been better. The scene stealers are Dinklage and Q*Bert, who brings in the massive fluff at the right time.
However many enjoyable moments there were, Pixels still suffers from some of the usual Sandler tropes that prevent it from being wholly engaging. Seeing all the arcade game characters is fun and enjoyable, but none of the jokes completely stick and some of the character gags are flat. The main highlights are the arcade game characters. Ultimately it serves as well-meaning family friendly film that will be entertainment enough for the kids, but may not evoke the same feelings for adults.