Things have gone crazy with the world in Pixels. For a start we’re supposed to believe the American people have voted Kevin James to be their President, and also that if the POTUS is your bestie, you’re still going to have to work as a home entertainment installer. If that doesn’t suggest things are bad enough, the world is suddenly attacked by aliens whose army takes the form of 1980s 8-bit video game characters – from Centipede to Space Invaders – and starts destroying things by pixelating them.
The military can’t defeat them as they don’t know the rules of the games, so it’s down to Brenner (Adam Sandler), Ludlow (Josh Gad) and the arrogant and unstable Eddie (Peter Dinklage) – who were videogame champions when they were kids in the 80s – to take down the unusual invaders.
Patrick Jean’s 2010 short, on which Pixels is based, was great fun for a couple of minutes, with an entertaining concept and some great special effects. Turning that two-minute idea into a feature-length movie was always going to be tough, as it’s inevitably more difficult to accept Pacman invading Earth in a 105 minute movie than when it was just an entertaining aside. Despite being in development for five years, the resulting movie never really overcomes that obstacle instead suffering from what many of Adam Sandler’s movies do, which is that it has absolutely no internal logic.
In fact, it pretty much tries to sidestep the obstacle, as it never comes up with an even vaguely logical reason why the aliens invade in the way they do.
That’s a particular problem here as it means it becomes somewhat difficult to care whether they save the world or not. It also misses out on a trick by bringing in a load of classic 80s videogame characters but not really hitting the nostalgia notes it really ought to. It also assumes that everyone in the audience will know what all the references are, which means that if you don’t it’s likely to come across as a rather random film.
Perhaps the biggest problem though is that it isn’t all that funny. Occasionally it raises a laugh and when the aliens are actually attacking it’s reasonably fun – the Donkey Kong finale is at times brilliant conceived and executed – but in between it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and tends towards being a little bit tedious. It’s not terrible but like many attempts to mix sci-fi and comedy before it, the film constantly feels like it’s based on a fun idea that should have resulted in a more entertaining movie than it has. Only Peter Dinklage comes out completely unscathed, playing the whole thing with just enough of his tongue in his cheek to show you what this could have been.
Overall Verdict: Pixels does just enough to show that with a bit more thought and a stronger script (and perhaps without Adam Sandler), it could have been great, rather than intermittently entertaining but largely dull.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac