Release date: 12 August 2015
Running time: 106 min
Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad
It takes a lot to make a truly terrible film. Usually it is the result of a collective effort involving several factors, be it miscasting, a troubled production, perhaps a poorly written script. It’s not often that you can point the finger of blame at a single entity as the reason for why a movie fails. That is what we’re dealing with here, however. Pixels is a terrible film, and it’s all Adam Sandler’s fault. The premise at least has legs. Extra-terrestrials attack earth using various famous video game characters from the 1980s. Based on a fun little short film from 2010-and ripping off a storyline from a Futurama episode- the plot is undeniably daft, but these earlier efforts prove that there is enjoyment to be had from the idea. Any semblance of jollification is sadly obliterated as soon as Sandler lumbers on screen.
Developed by Happy Madison, Sandler’s production company, it’s fair to assume he exercised a certain amount of creative control on the project. Like most of his films he cannot just play the lead, or a central character, he has to occupy several roles at once and they all have to be magnificent. So in Pixels he gets to be the nerd, the video game genius, the ladies’ man, the best friend, the action hero, the wise elder passing on advice to the younger generation, and let us not forget the SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD. The hubris of the man is remarkable.
To give you some perspective of just how big a bastard he really is; the first time he encounters Michelle Monaghan’s character (the only female to get more than 5 lines of dialogue in the entire film by the way), she is reeling from her impending divorce, drinking alone and quietly sobbing on the floor of her walk-in wardrobe. Within two minutes not only has he attempted to hijack audience sympathies for himself by relaying a story of how his wife cheated on him, he also attempts to stick his tongue down her throat. Despicable right? It gets worse. When she rightly lambasts him for making a move when she’s so vulnerable, he flips the blame onto her, calling her a snob- a title she is then force to carry with her throughout the remainder of the film. Your hero ladies and gentlemen!
Sadly it is not so simple as to dismiss Pixels as a total disaster. Frustratingly, perhaps even tauntingly, we are given brief flashes of what this film could have been sans-Sandler. There are some genuinely creative and enjoyable action set pieces, with the pixellated carnage making a nice change from the usual explosions. Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage overcome being lumbered with poorly written and annoying characters to deliver very watchable performances. It offers a glimpse of what could have been before the bratty man-child of a lead character starts demanding your attention again. What should have been a fun, nostalgic throwback for fans of classic video games, is actually the worst kind of mean-spirited vanity projects. We all deserve better.