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Pixels Movie Review

Pixels: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack cover art
Pixels is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray 3D + 2D.

Pixels (2015) movie poster Pixels

Theatrical Release: July 24, 2015 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Chris Columbus / Writers: Tim Herlihy (screen story & screenplay), Timothy Dowling (screenplay), Patrick Jean (short film)

Cast: Adam Sandler (Sam Brenner), Kevin James (President Will Cooper), Michelle Monaghan (Lt. Colonel Violet Van Patten), Peter Dinklage (Eddie Plant), Josh Gad (Ludlow Lamonsoff), Matt Lintz (Matty Van Patten), Brian Cox (Admiral Porter), Sean Bean (Corporal Hill), Jane Krakowski (First Lady Jane Cooper), Dan Aykroyd (1982 Championship MC), Affion Crockett (Sergeant Dylan Cohan), Lainie Kazan (Mickey Lamonsoff), Ashley Benson (Lady Lisa), Denis Akiyama (Professor Iwatani), Tom McCarthy (Michael the Robot), Tim Herlihy (Defense Secretary), Jackie Sandler (President's Assistant Jennifer), Serena Williams (Herself), Martha Stewart (Herself), Dan Patrick (White House Reporter #1), Robert Smigel (White House Reporter #2), Anthony Ippolito (13-year-old Sam Brenner), Jared Riley (13-year-old Will Cooper), Andrew Bambridge (13-year-old Eddie Plant), Jacob Shinder (8-year-old Ludlow Lamonsoff)

Buy Pixels from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

Many have accused Adam Sandler of making the same kind of movie again and again.
Now, here is Pixels, which is genuinely unlike anything in the actor's past; you can just as easily classify it as action and sci-fi as comedy. Nonetheless, I'm pretty sure that critics are going to hate it even more than many of the actor's lazy signature vehicles. And I'm not even convinced it will hit the $100 million domestic mark that Sandler's comedies habitually crossed from 1998 to 2013.

Pixels is adapted from the 2010 animated short of the same name. Written and directed by France's Patrick Jean, that 2-minute 'toon unleashed vintage arcade characters on New York City. That concept drives this feature, which necessarily expands the destruction into a story of global peril and salvation. That's not uncommon ground for a major studio's 3D summer spectacle, though it's new for Sandler, for whom this is the fifteenth wide Sony release he's headlined over the past sixteen years, many of them summer openings.

In what is now typical for Sandler, the movie begins in the past with our attentions fixed on an adolescent actor resembling the star. In the summer of 1982, Sam Brenner (initially Anthony Ippolito) virtually lives at the arcade, along with his best friend Will "Chewie" Cooper (Jared Riley). Memorizing video games' patterns, Sam is so good at Pac-Man and others that he enters a world championship tournament and only narrowly loses to egotistical dwarf Eddie "The Fire Blaster" Plant (Andrew Bambridge) on a battle of Donkey Kong.

President Kevin James commends the Arcaders: Michelle Monaghan, Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, and Peter Dinklage.

Flash forward to the present day and Will (now Kevin James) is the President of the United States of America, while Sam (Sandler), still valued as a friend and confidante, wears a bright orange polo and matching shorts to work as member of the Nerd Brigade, a tech installation outfit clearly modeled after the Geek Squad (missed opportunity at brand promotion, Best Buy!).

The president and his military are baffled by an inexplicable surprise attack launched on Guam, in which review of the tape shows the attack to resemble action in the old arcade shooter game Galaga. After determining that some alien life form has misinterpreted the space-transmitted video of that 1982 arcade tournament as a declaration of war, President Cooper brings Sam in as an expert on old games. Also partaking in the world-saving efforts are Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), a "wonder kid" gamer from the '80s who has grown into a nutty, nerdy conspiracy theorist; Eddie Plant (now Peter Dinklage, having fun), who is released from jail with a list of demands met; and Lieutenant Colonel Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan, trying to have fun), the latest in a long line of V-named Sandler love interests who are younger and more attractive than he is.

As foretold by videos putting aliens' words into the mouths of '80s icons from Madonna to Max Headroom, additional attacks are carried out on India and London. Strangely, the poster art's image of Pac-Man laying siege on San Francisco never comes to fruition. The big finale does bring the yellow gobbler into the mix, but in New York City, where by now the gamers and president wear uniforms proclaiming them the Arcaders, Earth's only line of defense against extermination.

Arcader-driven colored vehicles fulfill the ghost roles against Pac-Man in the New York set-climax of the video game-themed action sci-fi comedy "Pixels."

The screenplay, attributed to longtime Sandler collaborator Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling (Just Go With It, Role Models, and the 1999 short George Lucas in Love), puts a lot of thought into this global threat and the forms it takes, which seems kind of unnecessary, since the plot is 100% bonkers. Yes, this is supposed to be a summer blockbuster and maybe fortysomethings who played arcade games in the late '80s being asked to save the world isn't all that more outlandish than dinosaurs attacking tourists and an ex-con turned shrinking down to a superhero the size of an ant. Pixels feels a lot more ludicrous, though.
It's certainly more childish than its fellow PG-13 summer tentpoles. Even in a comedy, it's tough to take seriously at all the notion of Kevin James as President still palling around with his tech guy friend played by Adam Sandler. Aliens attacking Earth with plans drawn up from 8-bit video games might just be the dumbest premise of any major movie ever.

And yet, there is some fun to be had from this escapism. Turn off your brain, appreciate that Sandler and James aren't quite regurgitating their standby personas and their broad comic hijinks, and you can almost see Pixels as belonging to a tradition that includes Ghostbusters and Men in Black, two of the most successful franchises in the long history of Columbia Pictures. The film drew applause at the conclusion of my screening, a rare occurrence even in packed-full theaters high on the excitement of seeing a new movie a few days early and for free. Maybe if I was twenty years younger, I would have really enjoyed this movie the way that I still enjoy those other sci-fi comedies and most of Sandler's mid-'90s to mid-Noughties vehicles. But I'm not a pre-teen and therefore I'm seemingly not the target audience. The few smiles and couple of chuckles I had were far from the wall-to-wall enjoyment the movie aims to provide. I've defended Sandler more than any critic, but it's become almost impossible for anyone but a professional contrarian to admire his latest output.

Pixels is probably the most fun Happy Madison production since the first Grown Ups, but most would tell you that means very little because the bar is continually being lowered. Sandler has shown himself to be resistant to reinvention and unrewarded when he attempts to shake things up. Pixels is not a signature Adam Sandler comedy. It's not directed by Dennis Dugan or one of the other derided filmmakers he's repeatedly trusted in. Appearances by famous friends are kept somewhat scarce, with only Dan Patrick, Dan Aykroyd (whose crystal skull vodka gets into the characteristically long list of product placement opportunities), Robert Smigel and Sandler's wife briefly spotted in character roles and Serena Williams and Martha Stewart providing self-cameos.

Even if it surprises and performs exceptionally at the box office, Pixels probably represents the end of an era for Sandler. As of now, it's the actor's last live-action film being distributed by Sony, who has handled most of his films over the years. His next four comedies are being made for Netflix, who has apparently given him creative control and comfortable budgets he's used to. People will probably watch those movies in great numbers, but they won't see them in theaters. That fact will further diminish Sandler's brand, which has endured longer than the brands of just about every other major movie star who emerged in the '90s.

Barrel-throwing Donkey Kong is the daunting final challenge for Sam Brenner and friends who have to revisit the classic arcade characters of their early '80s youth.

Although Sandler will still be getting paid and not having to really answer to anybody, his movies won't carry the luster they long did and his star power and asking price are sure to drop accordingly. The descent is only being expedited by media determined to unravel his commercial empire by creating scandals out of extras protests,

casting call complaints, and red carpet attire. Why attack Sandler, who by all accounts seems to be a nice guy, a loyal friend, and a dependable employee? Probably because many do not like his movies and because rich and famous people make for the most attention-grabbing reporting (see Cosby, Bill). Sandler already got his name dragged through the mud in the coverage of last year's Sony hacking on account of employees not liking the generally profitable movies he makes.

Forget all the noise, the clickbait stories, and the very likely possibility that Sandler's stardom is on the wane. Pixels is not a good enough movie to lament the forthcoming absence of Sandler from theaters, but nor is it bad enough to celebrate a Hollywood in which Sandler's work doesn't feature as prominently.

If you really want a career trajectory to ponder, consider that of Pixels director Chris Columbus, who graduated from writing Gremlins and The Goonies to directing the highly entertaining family comedies Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire to helming the slightly underrated first two Harry Potter adaptations to an assortment of movies that are disliked by critics and fall short of commercial expectations. Pixels could very well be the latest Columbus movie to face such a fate.

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Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD / Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Adam Sandler: Grown Ups Grown Ups 2 Bedtime Stories Blended Just Go With It Jack and Jill
Adam Sandler: The Cobbler Men, Women & Children That's My Boy Funny People Hotel Transylvania
Kevin James: Paul Blart: Mall Cop Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 Zookeeper Here Comes the Boom
Michelle Monaghan: The Heartbreak Kid Due Date Gone Baby Gone | Josh Gad: Frozen
Peter Dinklage: Elf The Station Agent X-Men: Days of Future Past Underdog
Directed by Chris Columbus: Adventures in Babysitting Mrs. Doubtfire | Written by Timothy Dowling: This Means War
Now in Theaters: Ant-Man Inside Out Southpaw Terminator Genisys
Wreck-It Ralph Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Men in Black The Lego Movie

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Reviewed July 24, 2015.



Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 Sony, Columbia Pictures, Happy Madison Productions, 1492 Pictures, L Star Capital, China Film Co. Ltd., and Film Croppers Entertainment.