The best to worst ’80s-themed video game movies

24 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Pixels’ review: Adam Sandler stinks, as usual, in idiotic video-game comedy.

is coming out this weekend, and already it’s not looking too good for the Adam Sandler nostalgia vehicle. “Pixels” is a collection of 1980s references in search of jokes. “Fantasy Island,” Q*Bert, Max Headroom, Loverboy – it hits many of the decade’s pop-cultural touchstones, and in such lazy fashion, it believes the mere image of a heavily mulleted Hall and Oates is worthy of a high-five.As kids in the 1980s, Sam Brenner, Will Cooper, Ludlow Lamonsoff, and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant saved the world thousands of times – at 25 cents a game, in the video arcades.Adam Sandler fans need their summer movies, too, ergo “Pixels.” A knockoff of such fan favorites as “The Last Starfighter” and “Independence Day,” the film, indifferently directed by veteran Chris Columbus, gives us Sandler as Sam Brenner, former child arcade-video-game superstar turned blue-collar “Nerd Brigade” installer of home theaters, and Sandler buddy Kevin James as a low-browed, high-stepping president of the United States, who is also Brenner’s childhood best friend.

The “Billy Madison” star plays Sam, a Nerd Brigade television installer who, as a teen was part of a gang of video game obsessed kids, Will (Kevin James), Ludlow (Josh Gad). When intergalactic aliens discover video feeds of classic arcade games and misinterpret them as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth, using the video games as the models for their assaults, and now U.S. president Cooper must call on his old-school arcade friends to save the world from being destroyed by Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Centipede, and Space Invaders.

Sandler is basically a nerd superhero, whose superpowers are his wizardly expertise at such games as “Space Invaders” and “Pac-Man” and his ability to come up with derisively funny names for other people (“Hey, Gandalf,” etc.). But, if you’re curious for some of these so-bad-they’re-good movies, we’ve compiled a list, in case you want to see how measures up to the likes of Super Mario Bros. Truth be told, “Pixels” is more conceptually ambitious than typical Sandler productions, which tend to assemble the star and his buddies in a nice vacation spot with a terrible script boasting a level of sophistication on par with “Totally Gross Jokes Vol. 2.” The new film is a relatively large-scale special-effects vehicle pitting Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad and paycheck slummers Michelle Monaghan and Peter Dinklage against a space-alien attack manifest as classic 1980s arcade-game scenarios and characters. Based on a French short video by Patrick Jean, Pixels tugs at the nostalgia strings of those who are old enough to have experienced the glory of arcade games, but the movie would be lost on the younger generation. There might be some 1980s “Pac Man Fever” nostalgia for those who came of age during the Reagan years, but as good-natured as the movie is, there’s not much here to recommend it as a comedy.

Brenner’s old rival “Fire Blaster” Eddie Planter (Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones,” delivering the film’s funniest performance) is let out of prison to help Brenner and old buddy and fellow nerd Ludlow (inevitably, Josh Gad) fight the aliens. Wreck-It Ralph is a funny, heartwarming and subversive movie that honors the ’80s arcade games its based on without being obnoxiously self-referential about it. There are Donkey Kong games with more laughs than “Pixels.” Sandler’s man-child with a heart of gold character is now as creaky as an arcade game joystick after a Battlezone binge. Sandler foregoes his usual stable of terrible directors (Dennis Dugan, Frank Coraci, et. al.) and recruits veteran helmsman Chris Columbus to bring some blockbuster credibility to “Pixels.” Which isn’t to say it’s a well-made movie – Columbus directed the two flimsiest “Harry Potter” films, a clunky big-screen take on “Rent” and broad McComedies “Mrs.

Before, I predicted this film was going to be terrible, as Adam Sandler has had a bad spate of cringe movies recently (except Hotel Transylvania) with his vulgar comedy that did not age well over the years. Surprisingly, his wise-cracks and comedic sequences were in much better taste than before, clearly wrangled by the writing team and the director, who gave the slapstick comedy reigns to snowman star Josh Gad. In scenes set in Manhattan and smelling of product placement, Brenner, Ludlow and Eddie chase Pac-Man through the streets in modified “ghost” Mini-Coopers. Predictable and not nearly heartwarming enough to make you care about the characters, “Pixels” feels lazy, as though it was too much work to make the video game warrior aspect anything more than a sentimental gimmick.

The producers and directors threw all their energy into the comedy and action of Pixels, which had me in stitches, but left plot holes the size of Space Invader-shaped craters along the way, leaving the audience with big question marks on their faces. The story begins in 1982, when a young Brenner (Anthony Ippolito) ruled the arcade, drawing crowds as he defeated “Defender” and commanded “Asteroids.” But alas, at 13, he lost a major gaming championship to Eddie, a little person with a big ego and an even bigger feathered mullet. In films like this the women characters are mainly there as eye candy (which is obviously true for Ashley Benson as Lady Lisa), but I was impressed by Michelle Monaghan, who plays Lieutenant Colonel Violet, a soon-to-be-divorced mother that develops the weapons used against the invaders. Her timing with Adam Sandler was on point, her character was well fleshed out and they even subtly pointed out the sexism experienced by women in male-dominated environments such as the military.

Speaking of coincidences, at work Brenner is sent to a home where a beautiful wife and mother (Michelle Monaghan) has learned her husband has left her for a 19-year-old Pilates instructor named Sinnamon. Other than that, de-aged Jeff Bridges is a bit creepy-looking, and no matter how hard you try, Hollywood, you still can’t make Garrett Hedlund a star. The only decent laugh in “Pixels” comes when President Cooper is berated by Girl Scouts on national TV, a lonely satirical flower in a vast field of life-choking comedy weeds. Sandler, who also produced the film, must be a “GoT” man because Ned Stark himself — Sean Bean — also makes a gratuitous appearance as a soldier.

Coincidentally, the divorcee Brenner hit on three scenes prior, Violet (Monaghan), is a member, and they exchange witless barbs, until they don’t, and against all logic, reason and sanity, she becomes attracted to him. This happens maybe because he becomes a hero, but more likely because he’s played by Sandler, who always pairs himself with the most attractive female cast member, in spite of playing a character with all the appeal of a baboon with hemorrhoids. Brenner’s idea of a compliment is, “You smell so nice – like the Book of Genesis.” (I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean.) “Pixels” riffs on vidiot lore via Dinklage’s character, Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant, based loosely on Billy Mitchell, the hotly contested real-life “Donkey Kong” champion and villain of documentary “The King of Kong.” (That’s a great film, and I recite the title as an incantation against the rampant lameness of “Pixels.”) Eddie’s arrogant and snide, and the fact that he’s a huge ego in a small body is a tasteless joke – Columbus frequently shoots Dinklage at a low angle, a low-blow visual gag sneering at his stature.

Such juvenilia is aimed at 13-year-old boys trying to stifle their laughter in their parents’ presence, but baffled by the onslaught of ’80s allusions. They’ll find no humor in the recitation of the words “Where’s the beef” or the presentation of a character from “Dig Dug.” And if I may further pummel the metaphor into oblivion, adults will deem “Pixels” to be mostly stale comedic bun and very little patty.

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