Dir: Chris Columbus, 2015
When a time capsule containing footage of eighties arcade games is sent into space, aliens intercept it and misinterpret the videos as a declaration of war. As they begin to attack the Earth in the form of these retro video games, U.S. President Will Cooper must call on his old friends and arcade experts Sam Brenner, Ludlow Lamonsoff and Eddie “Fire Blaster” Plant to save the world from an invasion comprised of Centipede, Galaga, PAC-MAN and Donkey Kong.
It’s incomprehensible to think that The Goonies, Home Alone and Mrs Doubtfire all came from the man who now punishes us with Pixels but then we’ve watched Chris Columbus work, nay, fall down the ladder of success for some time – at least as far as the quality of his films is concerned. The aforementioned are classic examples of family films with universal appeal to audiences of all ages whereas Columbus’ more recent projects are anything but and Pixels is no exception.
The evolution of nerd culture in the past decade, let alone three, has been significant. Most significant is that it’s no longer ‘nerd culture’, it’s now geek culture (‘nerd’ being considered more of an insult whereas ‘geek’ is a point of pride). So it’s unsurprising that this redefining facet of its own demographic is something that Pixels completely overlooks, just as it does everything else about its audience.
The blitzkrieg of nostalgia intended to accompany these beloved classic arcade games is squandered on anyone born in the last twenty-five years and the sense of humour on offer is far too lowbrow for those whose maturity precludes them from enjoying Grown-Ups. The special effects are the sole bonus in a world of game-overs but the action set pieces are driven with absolutely zero charisma which is what a film depicting retro arcade figures attacking Earth sorely needs.
Ironic that such a film comes out the same week as Trainwreck, the gender politics of Pixels are as antediluvian as its cultural references and are the foundation for the most misjudged third-act gag since Kingsman: The Secret Service. Not to mention the thought process behind Kevin James’ bewildering role as Paul Blart: Mall President while 30 Rock’s hilarious Jane Krakowski is cast aside as the ‘seen but not heard’ First Lady.
Whenever successful movie stars deliver sluggish performances in summer blockbusters, the modus operandi is to defend the actors by citing the script’s inferiority. With Pixels, the actors seem to be in collusion to act down to the script’s level and then some in a twisted race to become the film’s lowest common denominator. An enormous feat as there is almost no facet of the film that isn’t offensively abhorrent.
Adam Sandler continues to create movies that belong alongside MerMan and the other faux-films of Sandler’s character in Funny People, Peter Dinklage juxtaposes his grounded performance as Tyrion Lannister by chewing the CGI-scenery like he’s just fallen off the acting wagon and Josh Gad follows up The Wedding Ringer with another enthusiastic attempt to eviscerate Olaf the Snowman for those who enjoyed Frozen. Dan Aykroyd appears merely to plug his own brand of vodka and Sean Bean is present for one scene, the entirety of which he looks like his presence in the film is due to him losing a bet with Sandler.
There is nothing original about Pixels except that it manages to assuage all the fears of the misogynist, do-nothing, man-children by singing them a synthesized lullaby in which those endless hours they wasted playing video games and masturbating about Lady Lisa will be fruitful as one day they will save the world and win beautiful, voiceless women as trophies for their hard-earned victories.
An insipid, morally reprehensible slog of a film, Pixels is as enjoyable as watching someone else play video games for two hours… and that’s being very kind.