I’m an 80’s/90’s kid. I was raised on Star Wars, Transformers: The Movie and The Last Starfighter. Whenever there’s an argument about things not being as good as they used to be, I’m firmly on the side of nostalgia.
I’ve written exhaustively on the subject of 90’s nostalgia being the hallmark of 2015’s cinema. Truly though, there’s still room for the 80’s in there too. It was the decade that gave us DayGlo clothing, Super Mario and MTV. It was a magical time. For me, I’ll always love it for one thing above almost all others, Pac-Man! I loved that little yellow guy and his ghost frenemies. Yeah, they were out to get him but I always imagine they snuck out for a beer after the arcade closed and patched things up. (Wreck it Ralph used this idea years later and I swear they got it from me.)
Unlike the aforementioned Wreck it Ralph, Pixels fails to buy into that same nostalgia and leaves the audience unmoved, and worse for a comedy, unable to find much to laugh about. If Wreck it Ralph is a beautifully crafted love-letter to gaming, Pixels is a cheap chat up line that’s only after one thing.
There’s hints of 90’s Adam Sandler genius in the movie which makes it all the sadder for those of us that loved Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer but lost interest after the career peak of Big Daddy. In Pixels, Sandler plays Sam Brenner - a former arcade gaming legend who faded into obscurity after failing to win a national Arcade Gaming Tournament. He remains friends with his childhood best pal, played by Kevin James, despite the latter now being the President of the United States. (Yes, this movie wants us to believe that the guy from Mall Cop is POTUS).
The premise of the movie is that in the 80’s, Earth sent into space a video about human culture and it was intercepted by aliens who took the images of Pac Man and co as a declaration of war and constructed giant Pac Man themed death dealers to launch a counter-attack. Rather than send in somebody in any way qualified to deal with the alien menace, President Mall Cop calls up his old buddy to dish out some 80’s style retro-justice. In this world, being good at video games 30 years ago makes you the man for the job. Yeah, I know that’s the premise of The Last Starfighter, but that movie was amazing, this just sucks. Peter Dinklage is in it for reasons I couldn’t quite fathom and his character, while forgettable, manages to deliver some of the funnier lines of the movie.
Michelle Monaghan is wasted playing the typical female foil to Adam Sandler. She’s the uptight career woman to his goofy loser. We’ve seen this scenario so often that it fails to add anything new and if anything undermines the potential of the movie. It would appear that Drew Barrymore is the only woman Adam Sandler is prepared to give a decent part to and it’s been done to death so much it would be career suicide for her to team up with him again.
Josh Gad actually pulls out some decent scenes in an otherwise uneven performance but will only make an impression on the millennial kids as the guy that sounds like Olaf.
Overall, the movie made me long for the 80’s, but not in the way director Chris Columbus was intending. It’s a mash-up of 80’s nostalgia and 90’s Adam Sandler. Sadly, it’s counting on that nostalgia as a recipe for success when truthfully it just makes me wish Adam Sandler was still funny and I could go back to playing Pac-Man for six hours a day…
(For those wanting a decent Pixels experience, watch this awesome two minute short that inspired the movie. It achieves in seconds what Pixels fails to do in hours.)