‘Pixels’ plays game of space invaders

24 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Pixels’ never comes into focus as a real picture.

For some movies, you want to pull out all the stops — IMAX, 3-D, reserved seating, evening show. Some movies are so interminable that it seems they might never end, while others are assembled with such indifference that you are essentially left waiting for them to start. “Pixels” somehow manages both.

Others are worth the price of a matinee, and still others are best viewed as the back half of a drive-in double feature. “Pixels” falls into that final category, harmless, disposable and seemingly made for grown-up men who remember with fondness their days in 1980s video arcades where high scores, an unending supply of quarters and such games as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Space Invaders were all the entertainment they needed. Case in point: “Pixels.” Sandler’s generally idiotic ode to 1980s video games is a hugely expensive proposition, costing in excess of $100 million. Ostensibly a hybrid of an Adam Sandler lovable schlub vehicle with a kids’ picture nostalgia piece, “Pixels” imagines that an alien invasion takes place in the form of vintage video game characters attacking major metropolises around the world. The city was destroyed on television Wednesday night in Syfy’s “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!,” and it takes a beating again in theaters with Friday’s release of “Pixels,” in which it is attacked by giant versions of 1980s video-game characters. When the action shifts to the present, we learn that Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) is now working as a Nerd from the Nerd Brigade — think Geek Squad — while dorky Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) is a conspiracy theorist living with his grandma.

Expect some of those many presidential candidates to begin dropping out of the race this weekend. “Pixels” is a special-effects eyeful burdened by the fact that it is also yet another film in which Adam Sandler plays a man-child who somehow turns the head of an attractive woman. Will Cooper (Kevin James) improbably is the president of the United States, and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage) is still bad to the bone.

Gone are the actual characters he once created, the tortured Robbie Hart of “The Wedding Singer,” even the titular guys like “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore,” as well as the semi-dramatic work in which he’s occasionally dabbled. PG This sci-fi comedy of invading outer-space arcade gamers was filmed last summer on our major downtown streets, adding to already considerable traffic jams. In “Pixels,” Sandler has barely tried to cobble together a character, playing Sam Brenner, a guy who doesn’t have much going on except the ability to insult anyone who crosses him. His old skills prove useful when extraterrestrials who misunderstood a message sent into space during Ronald Reagan’s administration attack Earth with giant Pac-Men, Centipedes and such.

He’s a middle-aged mobile computer tech who was once center stage, playing in the Donkey Kong World Championships as a kid, only to fall short of the grand prize to the self-proclaimed Fire Blaster, a failing that still haunts him today. His childhood best friend (James) is now the president, and when the alien invasion breaks out, the two realize that it will be vintage gamers who can save the day.

Josh Gad, Kevin James and — if you can’t get a “Game of Thrones” actor these days, don’t bother making your movie — Peter Dinklage play his comrades in arms. But everybody can get steamed about what a waste of a good idea the movie is, despite the directorial efforts of Chris Columbus, who did the first two Harry Potter movies.

Pixels writers Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling adapt their screenplay from a brilliant French short film of the same title and theme, which exhibits more creativity in two brisk minutes than Sandler and his team do in nearly two droning hours. The special effects are pretty cool, but the film is working nostalgia already thoroughly mined in movies (including the video-game-themed “Wreck-It Ralph”) and television (“The Goldbergs” and such).

The president, not the sharpest tool in the situation room, is married — Jane Krakowski plays the first lady but is given almost nothing to do — but Mr. When the story shifts to New York for the climactic battle, the unlikely saviors might call to mind the “Ghostbusters” gang — another 1980s reference — and make you wish the film had the wry freshness the original installment of that franchise did.

But when an alien race misinterprets their old-school amusements as a real-time intergalactic threat, and starts attacking Earth with monstrous versions of these pixellated pals, then who you gonna call? It’s not even as entertaining or original as 2012’s animated “Wreck-It Ralph.” That animated movie paid tribute to famous characters, games, voices and styles while this is a celebration of the arcade experience. This could have been a decent summer romp for children of all ages, but it isn’t, and the biggest reason is Sandler himself, who can barely pull himself away from hate-flirting with Lt. Unofficially the film also borrows some of its character dynamics from Seth Gordon’s 2007 documentary “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” about what became of arcade game champions later in life. “Pixels” is all the more frustrating for the few stray interesting ideas that are left hanging because they would require thinking and work to draw them out. Exactly how a stock Kevin James character became president isn’t really explained, and the movie does amusingly treat it kind of just like any other job.

Such dull contrivances pile up like Tetris tiles in Pixels, which also adds Michelle Monaghan as the token female invader battler and obligatory Sandler love interest. Defender, Asteroids and Pac-Man were games played in an arcade, “a building outside your house.” In ancient times they called it socializing. “Pixels,” directed by Chris Columbus, and apparently shot mainly in Canada where the streets of D.C. and New York look weirdly underpopulated, has a few funny throwaway lines that sound ad-libbed by Mr. The film’s best sequence is one in which the video game “Centipede” plays out across the sky over London’s Hyde Park, a psychedelic-tinged bit of weirdness that has an energy totally lacking elsewhere. (Maybe it’s the game’s mushrooms.) The “Pac-Man” sequence that follows shortly afterward, in which small cars race through New York City streets, feels like a low point, shoehorning in a chase and overlong. It’s steeped in nostalgia, courtesy of the games along with the Reagan-era cultural mainstays who are manipulated by aliens to deliver threats, and celebrates another batch of unlikely saviors who have become the go-to heroes for our times.

It is painfully formulaic every step of the way, the romance between Sandler and Violet is unpleasantly obligatory, and while it has some interesting visuals and bits and pieces of ’80s pop-culture references that are clever, the whole concept of who these aliens are is never in any way explored. Children accustomed to sophisticated first-person games may find it quaint or anachronistic, while their parents will happily listen to Olaf from “Frozen” rock out to “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Two female characters — the mother of Josh Gad’s character and the wife of Brian Cox’s warmonger admiral — are just disembodied voices nagging from somewhere offscreen. Worse, there are casual sexist and homophobic sentiments of the male teenage adolescent sort that cannot be justified by making Monaghan a responsible military professional.

The film stood to be some kind of summation of the long-standing ’80s fixation in Sandler movies, from “The Wedding Singer” to “That’s My Boy,” but no one involved was engaged enough to make that so.

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