Adam Sandler’s latest release, Pixels, is a film that centres on the idea of using beloved 1980’s arcade game characters as world destroying alien forces, that has big name talent such as Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) and Josh Gad (Frozen), with a budget of almost ninety-million dollars, and yet still somehow fails in almost every possible way.
When aliens attack Earth after misinterpreting arcade game footage as a declaration of war, the President (Kevin James) calls on his buddy, Sam Brenner (Sandler), a former second place arcade game champion who now works as a television installer, to save humanity. With help from his socially awkward pal (Gad), his arcade rival (Dinklage), and a government scientist (Michelle Monaghan), they must take on Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and more arcade classics if they have any hope of surviving.
As sadly expected, Sandler delivers the same tired performance that he has for most of his other recent films, as does James (Paul Blart: Mall Cop), although he seems to at least have some fun with the absurdity of his role as President. Sandler has been open before that his film choices are usually based on working with friends, such as James who has been a long time collaborator, but the fun that he seems to have while doing so never translates to the screen. Instead it just comes across as a lazy performance that brings down the quality of the overall production, and justifies the punching bags that his recent films have become.
Dinklage provides some laughs with his outlandish and egotistical arcade champion, but there’s never much reason to find him likeable which makes it hard to root for him at all, especially when the audience is meant to towards the end of the film. The problem here lies mainly with the script which doesn’t offer up much for him to do apart from a bonding scene later in the film that feels completely wedged in, and having him blurt out over-the-top lines for no apparent reason other than to be offensive.
Monaghan (True Detective) does well with what she’s given, playing mainly the Marge to everyone else’s Homer Simpson, although she does get a few funny moments sprinkled throughout. The only actor able to offer up real laughs is Gad, who brings a strong comedic delivery with what seemed like a fair amount of possible improvisation, although his talents are truly wasted here.
The most glaring problem in Pixels though, is that beyond the glossy CGI and running gags, the film is rather sexist. Yes, Monaghan’s Violet seems to be a rather intelligent scientist of some sort, (and there is a female British Prime Minister if we’re keeping score) but while the four male mains all have varying levels of wacky personality traits, Violet’s are mostly dependent on her acting neurotic after being dumped by her husband for a younger woman, falling for Sandler’s awkward advances and simply being a mother. Most of her truly funny lines occur when she breaks free from this mould and gets to be just as boisterous as the men, although these moments come at a cost of making her behaviour seem somewhat out of character.
Then there’s Ashley Benson’s (Spring Breakers) Lady Lisa character, who is probably in contention for the worst example of sexism in a film in the last decade, or possibly even ever. Lady Lisa is a warrior and one of the invading video game characters sent to earth, that just so happens to wear a very revealing, skimpy outfit. Yet, unlike all of her pixelated counterparts, she somehow turns to human flesh and is un-pixilated for no real reason mid-battle, which is transparently just to up the films sex appeal. Also, unlike other pixelated characters, she apparently lacks the ability to speak, which is never explained, and thus results in her having no lines at all. To make matters worse, Gad’s Ludlow is infatuated with the warrior throughout most of the film, and (spoilers now) towards the end of the film actually gets to keep her as a trophy. Yes, you read that right. A character that fundamentally counts as what would be considered the second female lead in this film, is literally presented as a trophy to fulfil a male character’s fantasy – in a major motion picture – in the 21st Century.
It’s just as hurtful to write as it was to watch.
In all honesty, Pixels probably just hits slightly more jokes than it misses, and the colourful special effects will keep most audiences distracted long enough for the hour and forty minutes to pass by, but the disappointing truth here is that it’s wasted what was a rather fun premise on a mediocre, sexist and all-around lazy film. Game over.
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