The idea for the movie Pixels first came from a short film of the same name made by Patrick Jean that came out in 2010. In it, iconic video game characters such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong attack New York City, pixelating everything they attack and eventually pixelating the world. Shortly after the video went viral, Sony obtained the rights to it and began work on a feature-length movie based on the short. So the question then is, could Sony turn this creative idea for a five-minute short film and expand it into a full length, entertaining movie? And the answer is…. they probably could, but they didn’t.
The movie focuses on Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), a video game prodigy as a kid who grew into a man with a dead-end job and little to no aspiration for anything. He doesn’t even seem to enjoy having an occasion lunch with his old friend Cooper (Kevin James), who also happens to be the president. Ludlow (Josh Gad) is that weird kid that Brenner and Cooper befriended at a young age and has an endless supply of pointless conspiracy theories, but most of the fun moments. Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage) is the scumbag bully who seems to talk down to anyone in his presence, but seems to be the most skilled at any game, making him appear to be a valuable asset for the incoming invasion.
The invasion is the result of footage of video games from the ‘80s being sent out to space and interpreted as a declaration of war. The aliens receiving the message, accept the challenge and bring the video game characters to life as their response. Some of the characters sent to specific areas of the world include Galaga, Centipede, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Tetris… basically all of the games shown in the short with a few extras mostly in the background. Along with the attacks, the aliens send oddly detailed information through old clips like President Reagan speaking.
Well… That’s about it. There was a bit of potential to the concept, but almost all of it was squandered for low blow comedic beats and not taking too much liberty from the short film. Some moments played nearly exactly like it did in the short film. The final attack even took place in New York City. It didn’t help that most of the characters felt so off. Sandler’s character Brenner seems pretty uninterested in everything, even when he’s at the heart of a global threat. Peter Dinklage’s character Plant acts up the egocentric tough guy a bit too much. Kevin James is the president, and that should say enough about him. Josh Gad did really well for the film, but his character was given some meandering characteristics like his conspiracies that vaguely helped him catch on to the intergalactic threat early and an unhealthy attachment to a femme fatale from a ’80s game.
The military characters did ok work… for a SyFy Original movie. Pointless in battles, cringe-worthy lines, and ultimately shoved aside once they decide to put their fate in just the three good video game players they can find. Brian Cox plays the Admiral that seems to have a very pessimistic view to the guys saving the world with hints that he may have sinister plans that end up going nowhere. Sean Bean is somehow wasted as a Corporal with little more to do than fail at his job until Sandler takes over the show. Michelle Monaghan plays a Lt. Col. Violet who provides the tools used against the aliens, and a needless involvement as Brenner’s love interest.
The set pieces can be nice. Seeing Brenner and Ludlow go a round of real life Centipede, the Pac-Man chase, along with most of the other pixels and their familiar behavior was pleasant. But it all lacked substance. Brenner was always bringing up patterns, without slowing down to explain any of them in detail. A moment on the different personality on the ghosts from Pac-Man would have been appreciated. Q’Bert was a little charming when he was present. The video games characters brought to life have an intriguing pixelated look, besides Lady Lisa who was given the full HD treatment just so Ludlow’s creepy infatuation with the character would come in to play.
Relying more on simple jokes than being more creative with the concept, Pixels adds little that the short film created five years ago already delivered. There was nothing wrong with the scientific explanation for how the characters were made of and how they were defeated, but the science quickly takes a back seat to cracking jokes. Some scenes are enhanced a little with some well-timed music like “We Will Rock You” and “Working for the Weekend.” There might be some set pieces and chuckle moments in this movie, but don’t expect well written characters or plot, and most jokes to feel a bit outdated.
In case you do see it, there is no after credit scene. There was supposedly going to be one involving 8-bit Mario (Who can be seen shortly in the final sequence), but it was apparently cut.
(2 out of 5)