Pixels falls short of comedic expectations

BAGOGAMES/ CC BY 2.0 Although Pixels revives classic video game characters, it fails to generate any strong humor.

BAGOGAMES/ CC BY 2.0
Although Pixels revives classic video game characters, it fails to generate any strong humor.

tim-freborgPixels, director Chris Columbus’s latest assault on the field of what he believes to be comedy, is an absolute train wreck of the most puzzling kind.

Despite featuring some very funny people in what should be a very funny (if rather tried-and-true) premise, the film somehow doesn’t even manage to elicit so much as a chuckle throughout its entire head-splittingly awful runtime. Its plot is inconsistent. Its cameos are wasted. Its special effect choices are incredibly bizarre. Despite all pretenses, Pixels isn’t even the loving retro-game homage it presents itself to be.

Wreck-It Ralph did it better. Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Galaxy Quest did it better. Even Santa Claus Conquers the Martians did it better — at least I laughed at that one. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s cover a little background first.

Pixels is a video-game-themed science-fiction comedy which graced theaters this past summer. Starring Adam Sandler, Peter Dinklage and Kevin James, this film certainly has an all-star cast who ought to be able to carry it. Unfortunately they fail miserably.

The film opens in the early 1980s in the golden age of classic arcade games. Young protagonist Sam Brenner and his friend Will Cooper enter a video game competition featuring a unique prize: whoever wins the tournament will have a recording of their gameplay footage launched into space to preserve it for years to come. Despite his best efforts, Sam loses this contest to ace player Eddie whose recorded victories are soon launched into space.

Cut to years later and Sam (now played by Adam Sandler), having made little of himself in life, is summoned by the President of the United States — his old friend Will Cooper (now played by Kevin James) — to help solve a global crisis. Apparently aliens got ahold of that gameplay footage sent to space all those years ago and have developed weaponry based on it.

Challenging Earth to the ultimate game contest, the aliens begin attacking it with enormous, real-life reproductions of classic video game characters. Faced with Galaga ships, Centipede strikes and even Pac-Man himself, Brenner is forced to assemble a team of friends and rivals to square off against this pixelated menace.

From its premise alone the film tries to mix animated and live-action scenes, but that has certainly been done before — a technique that is often successful. As films like the classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit demonstrate, blending live-action films with reproductions of animated media can be done tastefully. It has the potential to be very funny. As 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph shows, video games have a lot of untapped potential in this medium. They’re full of rich characters, concepts and ideas that are absolutely ripe for this sort of comedy crossover work.

But boy, does this movie miss the mark.

This film is clearly created and marketed as a comedy. Its trailer is full of jokes and even its concept is so laughably absurd that it should be simple to make the film work. But I promise you that not a single joke in the film generates strong laughter.

Sandler’s performance is surprisingly subdued for him especially given his more recent works. Yet despite taking something of a step back in terms of his obnoxiousness, he brings nothing but a boring void.

Of course this is balanced by Kevin James, whose character is so over-the-top and unfunny that it actually felt painful to sit through the vast majority of his scenes.

And Peter Dinklage, poor Peter Dinklage. If anything, the Game of Thrones star’s notoriously dry wit ought to have breathed some life into this mess, but every one of his lines is so poorly-written that the jokes die before they can even make it from his brain to his mouth.

None of these characters are comedians. They aren’t the elite gamers they’re supposed to be.

They’re not even incompetent enough to be mildly amusing. They’re simply another textbook example of comedy-film characters acting like drunken morons who seem to barely know their way around the script.

The video-game effects are the best thing the movie has going for it, and even those are nothing particularly spectacular. Created in an entirely pixelated fashion in an attempt to recreate a 1980s feeling, the giant Pac-Man, Centipede and the like do function reasonably well at least on a nostalgic level.

Unfortunately, that sense of nostalgia is simply not enough to carry the film. Even that fails to live up to expectations when it’s inundated with film-breaking inconsistencies and doesn’t even follow its own broken logic most of the time.

As is plainly evidenced, I was not impressed by this film. Audiences will find little to hold onto here, and there’s not a single moment of the film that makes it even remotely worth seeing.

Even if you’re a connoisseur of classic gaming desperate to see homages to your favorite Atari classics on the big screen I’d still say give this a pass. The trailer shows the best of the experience, and you would be better off seeing a film like Wreck-It Ralph that actually cares about the material it pays homage to.

Overall rating: 2/10

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