Pixels Review: There are no winners in this game

Director: Chris Columbus

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad

Please note, this review contains spoilers.

The Overview

After video footage of a 1982 arcade video game competition ends up in space, aliens misinterpret it as a declaration of war, and attack earth in the form of classic arcade games such as Galaga, Centipede and Donkey Kong. The hapless heroes led by former champion, Sam Brenner (Adam  Sandler) must defeat the aliens and save the planet, using their video game prowess.

The Good

Finding some good points in the sea of terrible was a struggle, but lets give this a shot! The special effects were fairly decent for what they are. I saw it in 3D which normally I loathe, but I would say that seeing it in 3D is worthwhile, as some of the effects would have more impact than in 2D, and you need something to keep it mildly interesting!

Whilst most of the acting is terrible, Peter Dinklage is good as the cocky, self-professed “King of Donkey Kong” Eddie ‘The Fire Blaster’ Plant. Whether he is actually good or just looks good when he is next to Adam Sandler’s poor attempt at acting is another matter! However, the scenes involving Dinklage and some of the celebrity cameos, were the only bits in the whole film which made me chuckle.

There are some nostalgic nods for gamer geeks which are vaguely enjoyable, but there aren’t as many as you would expect in a film like this. They’re also quite heavy-handed in their approach to these references, and they are not handled as well as they are in Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, another film based on computer game characters.

Some of the references were good though, with the 3 different attacks a link to the 3 lives you have in a video game, and how the final battle with Donkey Kong would resonate with gamers as the ‘difficult to beat’ Boss level.

The plot twist with Eddie’s glasses was also cleverly done, and for a film with quite a predictable storyline, this wasn’t something I saw coming.  

The Bad

Wow. Where to start? Much has been said about Adam Sandler’s terrible acting*, but in Pixels it looks like Adam Sandler doing a really bad impression of Adam Sandler. He even unashamedly rips off one of his own lines from Happy Gilmore. Adam Sandler has never been an amazing actor, but in Pixels his performance is so lazy, it really just looks like he is phoning it in. Every scene with him feels laboured and forced and that makes for a very uninteresting watch.

As with most recent Sandler films, all the “jokes” in Pixels fall way short of the mark – resorting to offensive racial stereotypes and sexism to try and raise some cheap laughs. An example of this is the portrayal of the British Prime Minister, who spouts a stream of very out-dated stereotypically British phrases, leaving the U.S. President (Kevin James) completely baffled. The result is just downright distasteful, and demonstrates the incredibly lacklustre script behind the flashy graphics and big set pieces.

As previously mentioned, whilst some of the nods to retro arcade games will generate good feelings of nostalgia for 80’s gamers, there are some unforgivable changes made to beloved characters which will leave nothing but a bad taste. Which brings us onto ‘the Q*bert issue’. Known for spouting incoherent phrases in the popular puzzle game, Pixels decides it is totally fine for Q*bert to be turned into a sidekick who speaks English. I mean seriously, what the “@#?!”! Also the fact that Q*bert turns into Lady Lisa (Ashley Benson) at the end of the film seems really strange. They’re aliens so they can do whatever they want apparently, but it would have made more sense if they were able to find a way to make Lady Lisa real in her own right rather than having Q*bert morph into her.

This brings us nicely into plot holes. It feels nit-picky to say there are plots holes in a film which has an incredibly unrealistic concept, but there are some blatant ones at work in Pixels. Why does the aforementioned Lady Lisa (from the fictional ‘made-for-Pixels’ game, Dojo Quest) appear in human form, whereas all the other characters are pixelated? The only purpose this serves is to be the mute sexualised object of Ludlow’s (Josh Gad) creepy fantasies. This not only doesn’t make sense, but it is incredibly offensive.

I guess aliens don’t really need a good reason to attack earth in the form of video games, but for the sake of the film’s plot there needs to be some explanation, and at no point is this made clear. We as an audience just have to accept the ridiculous notion that a video tape of a seemingly insignificant arcade game competition was misinterpreted by aliens as a declaration of war. The fact that it took them 33 years to respond to this message is also left unexplained. I get that this film is meant to be fun, and isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, but when things like this are not explained to the audience, it is difficult to get on board with the already ludicrous concept.

The Verdict

I saw this movie so you don’t have to. Please God, whatever you do don’t waste your time seeing it! It’s boring, unfunny, cringeworthy, contrived and ultimately pointless. For a film that had the potential to be smart, inventive and fun, this falls incredibly short of the mark. I firmly believe that in this film somewhere is a good movie. Take out the alien element, get some better actors, work on the script, and make the video game characters truer to how they appear in their respective games and it had the potential to be a good film. For now though, game over Pixels.

Agree with everything I’ve said, or am I a terribly misguided idiot who has got it all wrong? Please let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share as well.

*for evidence of Adam Sandler’s terrible acting, watch this.

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