PIXELS
Author: J.A. Hyde
July 23, 2015

SYNOPSIS: As kids in the 1980s, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Will Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), and Eddie "The Fire Blaster" Plant (Peter Dinklage) saved the world thousands of times - at 25 cents a game in the video arcades. Now, they're going to have to do it for real. In Pixels, 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. Joining them is Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), a specialist supplying the arcaders with unique weapons to fight the aliens.

If you’re looking for a film experience that’s a complete escape requiring little or no thought, then Pixels is the film for you!

The Chris Columbus vehicle starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James didn’t really require much acting either, but it’s ultimately saved from being just a series of making faces and sit-com style one-liners by amazing supporting actor Josh Gad.

The film opens in 1982 with best friends Brenner (Anthony Ippolito) and Cooper (Jared Riley) rushing to a newly-opened arcade to practice their skills with the arcade games of the day – Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Centipede, Galaga, etc. They’ve entered a contest to determine the Champion of such games. There, they meet Ludlow (Jacob Shinder), and are intimidated by the reigning champion “Fire Blaster,” real name Eddie (Andrew Bainbridge).

Fast forward to present day, and they’re adults: Brenner (Adam Sandler), Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow (Josh Gad), and Eddie (Peter Dinklage). Life has only been kind to Cooper who is now, inexplicably, the President of the United States! Brenner is a Geek Squad-style nerd electronics installer and repairman, Ludlow is a conspiracy theorist living with his grandmother, and Eddie is in prison. Now, if you can live with these absurd outcomes, you will enjoy the film.

Brenner arrives to install new electronics in an up-scale house where he meets Violet (Michele Monaghan), the lady of the house who’s weepy over her ex-husband who left her for a 19-year-old Pilates instructor. Interactions between the two commence at the junior high level, so you may be surprised to learn that Violet is actually a Lt. Col. in the Army and the technical advisor to President Cooper.

Meanwhile, an air base in Guam has been attacked, and President Cooper and his military advisors determine that it’s from an extraterrestrial source. The attacking entities are larger versions of 1980’s arcade games icons, and the alien leaders communicate through UHS television signals. It seems that the contest from 1982 was recorded and launched in a space probe. It was intercepted by the alien race and interpreted as a declaration of war. Conventional weapons are useless, so President Cooper calls on – who else? – his old friends Brenner and Ludlow because nobody knows how to play these games anymore. Eddie gets sprung from prison to help out also.

Got it?

Well, that’s all you really need to know about the plot. It unfolds amusingly, and at great length, with phony suspense leading to the predictable conclusion. The real reason to see the film is the absolute hilarity of viewing giant Pac Men and the lot, devouring and destroying things. Sound a little like Ghostbusters? There are more than a few references to that film, and Dan Ackroyd even makes an appearance! Serena Williams and Martha Stewart also make very funny cameo appearances.

If you detect a note of annoyance in my review, it’s because I’m not a fan of either Adam Sandler or Kevin James – full disclosure. The only actor to emerge triumphant from all this silliness is Josh Gad, who is brilliant as Ludlow. Even Peter Dinklage, who is normally excellent in everything, doesn’t seem really connected with his ludicrous role, plus he’s given a strange and unappealing accent.

I thought PIXELS was like the B-side of a Ghostbusters hit. However, the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, applauding at the end.

Consider yourself both informed and warned. - JoAnne Hyde


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