If I had to single one thing out as being the saddest moment in PIXELS, it would have to be when Michelle Monaghan, as a newly dumped wife is forced to find solace from Adam Sandler as she is weeping and drinking chardonnay from a sippy cup on the floor of her closet. It matters not a whit the character Sandler is playing; the roles he essays in any of the films produced by his Happy Madison company are iterations of the petty, vindictive misogynist of which he is so fond. Thus, it is fortunate that Ms Monaghan is not the turkey-necked, pot-bellied, bewhiskered woman that Sandler’s character had so thoroughly dismissed as being unworthy of comforting a few moments before. That she is trim, comely, and has perfect hair means she that she is, and, more, worthy of being hit upon by him in her emotionally vulnerable state.
There are givens in life. We face east to see the sunrise, and we expect a particularly joyless brand of smugness from Sandler masquerading as good-natured fun.
The film is based on a short film by Patrick Jean (video here), a clever little adventure with more wit and fun in his 2 minutes and 34 seconds than in the entire running time of the feature length version. That one, directed by Chris Columbus, hinges on the vagaries of interplanetary communication. Viz to wit., the video of an arcade championship shot into space in 1982 was misinterpreted by someone as a battle challenge. Hence, all those characters from all those arcade games arrive here to win two battle out of three, winner take all. As in all the planet.
Naturally, it’s up to Sam (Sandler), an orange-clad installer of high-tech video and sound systems, to save the world by using his crack arcade game skills to defeat the aliens in live-action versions of the game. And why does his name come up in the moment of crisis? Because his best friend since childhood (Kevin James), is the bumbling president of the United States, and his other childhood friend (Josh Gad) is a conspiracy buff who cracked the alien challenge. There’s also his childhood nemesis (Peter Dinklage), the only gamer to ever beat Sam at Donkey Kong, added so that Dinklage can rock a mullet (and he does, as counterintuitive as that is), and so that there can be a brief rip-off of ASTEROID.
Never mind about that. In a well-written farce, it might have all worked. Certainly James has the likability that Sandler lacks, and his way of braving his bumbles has an undeniable charm. Further certainly, Gad is the best reason to see this flick. When he swooningly tells Monaghan that she smells like the Book of Genesis, he has more ingenuity, originality, and humor than the rest of the action put together. Plus there’s his trademark curious blend of loopy creepiness and naïve innocence, of which I can never see enough.
As a nostalgic revisiting of 1980s pop culture, it might have been sweet. The larger-than-life game characters are bright, shiny, and boldly pigmented in their cubic 8-bit splendor. It might have been a clever satire on nerd culture Alas, the rote plotting and tepid comedy, coupled with further bad rip-offs of the Fast and Furious Franchise, not to mention Ghostbusters, makes it as tedious as watching someone >else< play Donkey Kong for an hour and a half. Someone who refuses to share the joystick and mocks you for asking.