Pixels Review

The Plot

When an alien race misinterprets old video games as a declaration of intergalactic war, they decide to obligingly attack in the form of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and other retro arcade classics. It’s up to the President (Kevin James), and his old gaming buddy (Adam Sandler) to save the world…

The Good

Inspired by Patrick Jean’s incredibly inventive short film of the same name, Pixels adds a story to the novel idea along with some upgraded visual effects. While it’s inspiration was a mere two and a half minutes, the feature length version of course provides much more room to play. While there are problems aplenty with Pixels, the joy of seeing old arcade games brought to life is still there. At least at first.

The Bad

The joy of the film’s novel premise is sadly cut short by an utterly ridiculous storyline and characters. Any film which has Kevin James as its on screen President has obviously already abandoned any hope of ever being taken seriously. Though unashamedly set up as fun goofy comedy, Pixels plot strays from goofy to ghastly far too easily.There are far too many examples, but the most frustrating is how little the peril of planetary destruction seems to trouble the films hapless heroes. It’s a fairly obnoxious choice to prepare for the next wave of pixelated attacks merely by organizing a elaborate parties. Particularly when they’re merely being used as a heavy handed excuse to force Frozen star Josh Gad to sing.

As with every Sandler comedy Pixel showcases a random assortment of cameos from people who really are talented and recognizable enough that they should know better. An opening out of place scene with Dan Aykroyd makes more sense once his vodka company starts getting prominent product placement. Likewise Sean Bean make an appearance, though always a welcome sight the film squanders such an obvious opportunity to poke fun at his infamous back catalog of on screen deaths.

Meanwhile the film treats it’s female characters simply atrociously.  Jane Krakowski  is given just a few brief scenes as First Lady to James’ President, with her role clearly having been pruned down to the very bare minimum. Leading lady Michelle Monaghan gets more screen time, but sadly it’s not always welcomed attention. The film literally takes a break from the action at one point to remind audiences that now she’s in a pretty green dress it’s officially time to ogle her. It’s not the first or last time an action comedy takes advantage of this kind of cliched gag at it’s heroine’s expense, but it’s hardly helping Sandler’s cause given his recent criticism for sexist casting calls and poor taste material.

Coherent logic is also a huge issue for a film, especially as it’s already struggling with an outlandish concept. In one scene a pixelated character becomes flesh and blood with no explanation as to exactly why this happens with only one of the thousands of pixelated invaders. When you’re already asking audiences to suspend disbelief a lot, it’s unwise to throw even more unanswered questions at them.

If you want a film that celebrates 80s video game nostalgia, Pixels serves as the anti-Wreck-It Ralph. Hearing Q Bert speaking english in Pixels is a big clue that of the two films in which the adorable orange character stars, this is the bad one.

The Ugly Truth

While it’s certainly an interesting concept, considerable issues with the character and story make Pixels extremely hard to completely enjoy. Pixar’s playful Wreck-It Ralph offered a more faithful and enjoyable tribute to arcade classics. If you watch the original Pixels short you’ll have more fun and waste less time.

Review by Johnny Ellis

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