Sci-fi Action: Aliens intercept a decades-old time capsule that NASA launched filled with memorabilia from 1982, mistake it for a declaration of war, and attack Earth using such classic video-game characters as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.
Sam Brenner (ADAM SANDLER) thought his life was going to turn out way different. In 1982, he was competing in video-game tournaments and being told by everyone he would grow up to be a great inventor or technology guru a la Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Flash-forward to the present day, and he is newly divorced forty-something who performs home installations of audio-video equipment. His best friend from his childhood arcade days, Will Cooper (KEVIN JAMES), has grown up to be the President of the United States.
One day, Brenner is performing an install for a recently divorced woman named Violet Van Patten (MICHELLE MONAGHAN) and her son, Matty (MATT LINTZ). He falls hard for her, but messes up their first kiss. Meanwhile, the Earth comes under attack by aliens who have seized a time capsule NASA shot out into space decades ago containing early 1980s pop-culture memorabilia. The beings mistake it as a declaration of war and attack Earth using giant, light-energy versions of such classic video-game characters as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.
When Cooper summons Brenner to the White House to use his video-game expertise in mounting a defense, Brenner is surprised to discover that Violet is actually Lt. Col. Van Patten on the President's defense advisory team. Against the objections of the war-crazy Admiral Porter (BRIAN COX), all concerned decide to assemble a team of top "arcaders," including legendary Donkey Kong champion Eddie "the Fire Blaster" Plant (PETER DINKLAGE) and wacky conspiracy theorist Ludlow Lamonsof (JOSH GAD), to take on the aliens.
OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Normally, I don't make any apologies for any movie that I give a positive review to. But, dear readers, I sincerely apologize for liking "Pixels." I don't think it deserves some of the venom that's being spewed at it in some of the earliest reviews. I've sat through a LOT worse Adam Sandler movies that deserve that kind of vitriol. "Jack and Jill," "Blended," "Grown-Ups 2" ... those three are indefensibly bad. You shoot those movies out into space, and we deserve planetary destruction if malevolent aliens ever find them and give them a look-see.
"Pixels" is infuriating more because it is such a missed opportunity to deliver a truly kooky and fun summer movie for the masses that isn't a sequel, prequel, remake, or reboot than it is an outright bad film. The writing is just not there. It's not nearly as sharp as it could have been. It could have been "Ghostbusters" crossed with "Wreck-It Ralph."
Nevertheless, there is some fun to be mined here, and I think it will appeal to a certain audience member. And I guess that certain audience member is dumb, ol' aging Gen X'er me who listens to way too much '80s on 8 on XM satellite radio; whose DVR is filled with too many reruns of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Growing Pains;" and who spent way too many hours growing up playing the heavily pixilated Zaxxon, Yar's Revenge, and Pitfall.
Sandler stars as Sam Brenner, a guy who peaked at age 13 in the summer of 1982 when he was a major contender in video-game tournaments. But he lost the final Donkey Kong round of the World Championship to the arrogant Eddie "the Fire Blaster" Plant (Peter Dinklage) and never recovered. Everyone told him he would grow up to be a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs sort of tech guru-innovator. Instead, Brenner in the current day installs audio-visual equipment in people's homes and is reeling from a recent divorce in which his wife cheated on him with their fertility doctor.
You would think matters would be made worse when we learn that Brenner's best friend from childhood, Will Cooper (Kevin James), has grown up to be ... the President of the United States!!! But this is revealed in such a casual, matter-of-fact way with the two still buddies and grabbing a burger together and talking about their time-management problems, that it's laughable. To be honest, this movie will lose some the very first second they realize that the former King of Queens is Commander in Chief. It's a bad casting misstep that is never made funny or interesting.
At any rate, when aliens attack using classic video-game characters from the 1980s as our destructors, President Cooper recruits his old buddy along with Eddie Plant and fellow video-game nerd, now conspiracy theorist Ludlow Lamonsof (Josh Gad) to fight the extraterrestrial beings around the globe whenever they take the form of Centipede (London), Pac-Man (New York City), and Donkey Kong (Washington, D.C.)
If you go to this movie for the spectacle of seeing these legendary pixels realized on the big screen in 3-D, you're going to get your money's worth. Pac-Man darting around the maze that is Manhattan is nutty, crazy fun almost on the level of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in "Ghostbusters," with Sandler and his cronies playing "ghosts" and giving chase in their tricked-out, weaponized Mini-Coopers. I am not sure why all of the marketing material for this film has Pac-Man attacking San Francisco. But who cares? And the final square off with Donkey Kong on the aliens' mothership is also well realized and works exceptionally well in 3-D.
What doesn't work? OK, a lot else. Sandler has a romance with Michelle Monaghan in this film that is clumsily set up, and she looks like she can barely stomach his touch or even his breath on her face. That and we're asked to believe she is old enough to be a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. She looks, maybe 30, and she's about as believable a senior military officer as Denise Richards was a nuclear physicist in "The World Is Not Enough." Also, I was personally looking forward to the extremely talented Dinklage getting to play broad comedy. Strangely, though, he never finds his character here. He has a couple of funny lines, like an off-hand boast he makes to Pac-Man's inventor on first meeting him. But otherwise, he just flails and never seems to know whether Eddie is supposed to a likeable louse or an unredeemable blowhard.
Would I have had any tolerance for this movie if I wasn't 12 in 1982? If I didn't grow up with achy wrists from slamming around way too many joysticks? If I didn't get into knock-down, drag-out fights with those insufferable classmates who swore Intellivision was better than the Atari 2600? I don't know. I can only say that even the snootiest food critic enjoys the occasional Big Mac. Even the most cynical TV reviewer will channel surf late one night and stop on an old episode of "Gilligan's Island" and watch. And, yes, arms folded, eyes squinted, there is a reviewer or two out there who will enjoy the space invaders of "Galaga" raining down pixilated hellfire on a U.S. military base in Guam. I did. And I give "Pixels" a 5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)