Adam Sandler Beats the Game in PIXELS

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Pixels Columbia Sony Adam Sandler Kevin James Peter Dinklage Critical Blast

PIXELS, from Columbia/Sony Pictures, is one of those movies I shouldn’t like -- but because I have so much in common with the main characters in this movie, I can’t help myself.

The seed to the plot of this movie takes place in a flashback to 1982 and the National Video Game Championships. The games are videotaped and sent into space, where they are discovered by an alien race who take them as a challenge to take over there world. In doing so, they bring to life many of the original characters of the video game world of 1982 and set them upon the Earth to destroy it -- but not immediately. You see, in true videogame fashion, they give the Earth three “lives,” and if they lose them, then world is destroyed.

Enter in our heroes, who oddly enough were the ones who competed at the games in 1982. Through varying twists of fate, they become Earth’s only hope in beating these otherworldly real videogame characters.

All four -- Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Will Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter DInklage) -- were video game nerds back in 1982, and while they all competed in the games, Sam and Eddie duked it out for the championship in a sudden death Donkey Kong game. In the present day, Sam and Will are still the best of friends. While Sam is working for a knock off of “Geek Squad” called “Ner Rds,” Will has become the President of the United States. Ludlow…well …we find he is still living with his grandmother, and Eddie has wound up in jail for hacking into the telephone company and charging people an erroneous fee like the ones we legitimately get but don’t know what they are for.

It is through Will that Sam gets called into the fray, because Will knows he is the best gamer of that era. Ludlow seeks him out because he realizes what is going on before the President does, and the three of them understand they need Eddie to complete the team if they are going to win. Earth has already lost its first “life” and trophies (humans captured when the aliens “won” their game).

I drew an instant affection and kinship for this movie on several points. 1: I was (am) a nerd…but I’m an aging nerd that has failed to keep up with the times of modern day video games; not because I don’t like them or have the time, but to put it bluntly I can’t coordinate my fingers to work all of the buttons or remember what each one does! Couple that with the complexity of the story lines, and I’ve lost before I start. That is why I like this movie; it’s got videogames/monsters that I know, that I too have defeated many a year ago.

Which brings me to point number 2. This started way back in 1982 when I was in my gaming prime. While in college, me and all my friends would go after class and on Saturday nights to Nathan’s in Carl Place Long Island (still there!) with three rolls of quarters each and play until two in the morning! Ah, the memories. We’d stop only long enough to eat a hot dog and fries (oh those Nathan dogs and fries!) because we were not allowed to bring food in the game room. The battles, the competition…just an awesome time…and there were the revered gamers then just like Sam and Eddie that everyone would clamor around to watch smash barrels and eat dots.

A third reason I like this movie is that there is a lot of retro from back in the day, not only from the games (where they found so many mint games is beyond me), but also personalities from the era, even though there were off by a few years showing a banana seat on a bicycle (70’s) and Madonna (although she had been singing back then she didn’t reach prominence until '84).

Minor quirks aside, it was neat as the aliens' videogame invaders were swarming all over the place. I had a blast trying to spot all the different characters and place them in their games.

The music, too, was very good, from the first song at the 82’ Gaming Championships (hosted by a cameo from Dan Akroyd) with Cheap Trick's “Surrender” to Queen's “We Will Rock You” during the Donkey Kong playoff. Eddie even wore the same Twisted Sister shirt I had (only mine was original; Dee if you read this, my SMF card finally disintegrated after all these years).

I liked that the battles went back and forth. Each time one side won, they got a trophy; when the aliens won they took a human, when Sam and company won we got a game character, such as the dog from Duck Hunt and Qbert from…well…Qbert. The special effects of the pixilated characters were very good, and in nice contrast to the other, more laid back special effects. Whenever a monster would bang or smash into something, whatever it hit broke apart as pixel cubes. It's an odd combination of old school and new school. While the scenes with the pixels is high tech, it carried with it that retro videogame feel about it. In some scenes where they are battling the game, it's almost old school Disney with the mix of live action and animation; don’t think TRON, think more along the lines of MARY POPPINS or, to be more obscure, “The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from the BANANA SPLITS AND FRIENDS show.

What I was not fond of was a loose end that maybe I missed, but don’t think I did. The aliens accuse the Earth of cheating, but Sam could never find out what we did to cheat. It was a pivotal point because it caused the aliens to launch an all-out videogame character attack. Maybe I was laughing too loud; it's a possibility.

I really like Adam Sandler when he does this kind of a movie, where he plays a hapless nerd. The delivery of his lines (while, let’s face it, we’re not talking a Shakespearian script delivered by Orson Welles here), was spot on, and in this type of banter, timing is everything. One of the best lines I remember from the movie was when Sam was talking to Violet after an exchange where she wouldn’t kiss him, and he says, “I’m an amazing kisser. All us nerds are. We appreciate it more.” It's a silly line, but it’s his timing and delivery that made it pop.

What a great comedic foursome Sandler, James, Dinklage and Gad make! Almost a modern day Marx Brothers in the chemistry I saw in the way they played off of each other. Each one when the scene focused around them was hilarious in their command of it.

What can I say more? If you’re a fan of Donkey Kong, Centipede, Galaga, Space Invaders, etc. and you like your retro mixed with lots of modern sight gags (four men in brightly colored Mini Coopers playing the ghosts in a PacMan game; it's BENNY HILL all over again!), and  you don’t mind a shallow story line, some silly dialog (ha-ha silly) and a few mistakes in the timeline – and you don’t go into this expecting it to be any more than it is, a fun movie -- I think you are really going to like it. And your family will too.

PIXELS is rated PG 13 because of some language and some suggestive comments, but really, your kids will hear a lot worse on any number of commercials on television at home. So buy a ticket, get some popcorn, Sno-Caps, Goobers and a Coke, and sit down with friends and have a lot of lighthearted laughs.

3.5 / 5.0