Thoughts on Pixels
I had an epiphany during my screening of Pixels; I had never seen an Adam Sandler film in theaters before (possibly Bedtime Stories but not to my recollection & Spanglish doesn’t count because he isn’t the focus). I’d only ever seen his films from the comfort of my own home with the family and I think that helped watching his films as a kid. I grew up to realize Adam Sandler by and large makes terrible films with the occasional good film sprinkled in, but I felt content it was fine. Sandler himself always stuck out as a family man, a guy you’d like to know. Sure he made cinematic schlock, but at least he didn’t seem too mean spirited (mind you I was too young and naive to realize how insulting I Know Pronounce You Chuck and Larry was and still is). But I realized his true quality right at the beginning of his downfall with films like Grown Ups, Just Go With It, Jack and Jill, etc… So now the issue became that his films were getting a bit too awful, like his films just wouldn’t leave you alone and would assault you with their awfulness. I couldn’t fathom his popularity anymore; it still sort of baffles me in hindsight how we got this far. But at least it couldn’t get any worse right? Well that was until his 2012 film, That’s My Boy, decided to use statutory rape as its central joke….yeah, because that’s totally funny. Fortunately that film flopped hard as it should have and I hoped it signaled the end; that was until later that year he won good will back from us with Hotel Transylvania, a film that has only continued to get better upon repeated viewings. This however of got us stuck in another swing of terrible movies with even his art films (Men, Women, and Children & The Cobbler) becoming terrible. So when I saw the trailer for Pixels, a film that looked decidedly higher budget and more interesting than most Sandler projects, I held out hope they’d take a cool concept and make something at least somewhat worthwhile. So when the reviews said it was one of his worst films thus far, I was a little shocked. After having seen it, I can not only back up that claim, I can say I finally know what critics must feel like after leaving an Adam Sandler comedy, very defeated and exhausted due to the monstrous onslaught they have survived.
Pixels follows a former world arcade champion Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) who only came in second place in the world championship as a kid so he is relegated to having accomplished nothing in life (or at least how the movie puts it). Sam is brought to the White House by his childhood friend and current POTUS Will Cooper (Kevin James) to examine footage from a government base attack. With the help of conspiracy theorist Ludlow (Josh Gad) they piece together that an alien race has come to earth in the form of video game characters to challenge them to arcade games, and the Earth will be destroyed if they loose. They enlist the help of Sam’s old enemy Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage) to defeat the aliens at what they know best. Oh, and there’s something about a romance subplot that happens for no reason and is totally terrible in every way, but you probably figured that be in there somewhere.
In prep for this, I wrote down a list of everything I thought was wrong with this film. It came out to a whole three pages and I don’t think it was enough. Pixels is the cinematic equivalent of a Family Guy cutaway gag, meaning it could be funny, but often it feels pointless and devoid of anything worthwhile. In fact, you may have lost your sense of humor by the time it’s done. Even in bad comedies I laugh at least once. Grown Ups is one of my most hated films ever and it at least gets one laugh out of me. I could barely manage a smile during this film, let alone laugh. The jokes are Sandler’s typical shtick that includes gay panic homophobia, insults, racial fetishism, double standards, and generally annoying characters. What’s worse is it also features the staples of director Chris Columbus’ worst films, namely that it’s devoid of a central gripping character that would make any of it worthwhile. When Columbus gets it right, he nails it, but when he gets it wrong he fails hard. Sandler as a central character is so uninterested in what’s happening I’m amazed he doesn’t pass out on screen. Characters claim Sam should be an inventor and not a gamer but we never see him invent something at all, and he does very little outside of being very good at a few classic games. There’s so little character it’s no wonder Sandler phones it in even more than usual. This is an alien invasion, there should be panic and thrills but no one seems all that affected or emotionally changed throughout. There are plenty of great set ups for action scenes but none of it engages me on any level what so ever, because why would I be invested in people whom clearly don’t care?
I guess the most obvious thing to point out is the plot is inconsistent and unfocused beyond belief. They’ll say something in one scene but completely change the logic in the next. “Those can’t be video game aliens because that technology is impossible!” says a character. In literarily two scenes this character demonstrates how to defeat them with expert knowledge with technology that they suddenly have. Then there’s just stuff that makes no sense. They use a cheat code in one scene, but you have no idea how they use it, how it works in reality, or what the hell happened at all. We’re told the aliens have no concept of games which is why they turned violent and misunderstood the video games….YET THEY CHALLENGE EARTH TO GAMES AND HAVE RULES AND GIVE PRIZES AND CLEARLY UNDERSTAND HOW VIDEO GAMES WORK!!!!! If you cant even give a good explanation as to what is happening, then why even bother? Also they make a big deal about cheating and yet the clearly cheat at the games all the time. They fight Pac Man in cars and complain the cars go too slow, so I ask why not just use better cars? Was it too much not to feature that specific car brand? I know you guys need the money, but come on! This is only a fraction of stuff that makes no sense in this movie and I can go on, but I think I’ll focus on the subtler and much harsher issues.
Kevin James is the President, yes I know that sounds unbelievable, but that isn’t my problem with this. My problem is the film tries to make him out to be a good guy when he is clearly a terrible President. The film even emphasizes this in the beginning by showing he can’t read to kids and he has tons of protesters that bring up legitimate points. Yet he acts like the hero throughout and does stuff which makes things worse. He picked three guys he knows to defend the earth and train marines to play games, rather than call upon the millions of gamers who could help who are just as qualified. Plus he seems to not call on every country to help and despite the fact the whole world I being attacked he seems to want to handle it all himself. He also insults the British for how they talk and he throws parties after every victory rather than plan out the next course of action. The film want us to side with him and celebrate these people with him but they should be prepping and saving the world. He takes time out to bake a cake with his wife, which he defends but in a time of crisis he actually needs to be running a country and not making a freaking cake! Also Jane Krakowski plays his wife and she is only given about three lines, none of which are jokes. HOW DO YOU WASTE JANE KRAKOWSKI IN A COMEDY!!!!!
The side characters are abysmal. Yes, most of the cast is made up of good actors and by far they all give their worst performances of their careers. Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad try and are clearly having fun, but even they’ve seen better days. Brian Cox, Sean Bean and Dan Aykroyd seem like they are there to remind me of better films I could be watching. In fact, what was the point of Brian Cox’s character? I still don’t know what he did and he disappeared in the climax, what happened to him?! But those who have it worst are the women. Michelle Monaghen, Ashley Benson, Serena Williams, & Martha Stewart are all treated poorly and you just feel sorry they have to endure the bro-fest.
Women especially get it bad here. Sandler’s character is supposed to be a riff on the Geek Squad (which the film demeans for no reason I might add) and hits on a recently divorced mother he is helping. He explains how beautiful she is by bashing ugly widowed wives and says they’re typically ugly and past their prime. She’s sad about her current situation and he tries to comfort her. But of course he turns it into a conversation about why his life sucks and how his divorced life is awful. He tries to go in for a kiss and she gets grossed out, since it is very creepy the repair guy is trying to kiss you after only two minutes of knowing you. He calls her out by claiming if he were rich she’d be all over him. He holds her to this for the whole film by calling her a snob. He seems too proud to point out a double standard. Only it isn’t a double standard, Sandler has failed to notice he flat out stated in the previous scene that he wouldn’t have gone with a women he deemed “ugly and past her prime” and doesn’t think that for some reason taking advantage of a women in peril might be a bad thing. Also most women I know would not kiss a man after two minutes regardless of if he were rich or handsome, because it just doesn’t happen. Sandler’s character falls into the trapping of the typical, “But I’m a nerd and nice guy so I deserve to be loved!” That is middle school mentality, I know because I was a white male middle schooler and I could guarantee you I thought like that because of the society I had been raised in. But you know what? I GREW UP!!!!!!! You have to grow out of the B.S. “friendzone” crap and realize that women are people who you can respect. Also she ends up with him, because of course in the male fantasy fulfillment movie you can insult a women and treat her like crap but you’ll win her over in the end anyways. But what do you expect from a film that treats women as trophies. I don’t mean that in the metaphorical sense, I mean literally the women are used as trophies in this film. Sandler’s love interest is shown as capable but is forced into a position where Sandler needs to save her despite flat out telling the guys it was a bad idea in the first place. So Sandler gets to look like a hero despite the fact it’s contrived she needs to be saved in the first place. For his “troubles” he gets the girl. Josh Gad is given a woman who doesn’t talk, who he doesn’t know but fantasizes about, and is given solely for winning a video game (she was also a villain who changed sides for no reason because screw logic). Serena Williams is shown to hate Peter Dinlage’s character yet somewhere off screen she changes her mind and decided to be a prize for him. It’s actually rather amazing to think the most sexist film this year was not Jurassic World, I didn’t think it was going to be possible but it happened.
But what about the actual aliens that were heavily promoted? They look cool, the animation is nice, but it doesn’t amount to much. It’s meant to milk nostalgia but it brings to mind nothing about what we love about these games. It’s more of “Remember that Pac-Man is a thing?” rather than, “Man, you remember playing Pac-Man as a kid, those were some good times!” Of course this isn’t surprising given what it knows about gaming (The Smurfs never had an arcade game despite the movie featuring a Smurf alien). Also for some reason they make some heroes of games villains and vice versa. Plus the movie’s one fictional game character, a female trophy samurai, isn’t pixilated but human flesh. Why is this the case even though it isn’t consistent with anything we’ve seen before? Because then it be creepy that Josh Gad has a crush on her, despite it already being creepy he does in the first place. In fact, this movie loves to bash nerds and geek culture yet wants to also praise it. It uses the tired gamer living in their mom’s basement stereotype and makes fun of them for this yet holds them up as heroes. It claims modern games are too violent and require no skill but it’s that mentality that’s saves them constantly (I might add they use The Last of Us to demonstrate this, which makes the comment all the more insulting). It brings out the worst of gaming culture yet ignores anything that could show how universally games are loved. They go around the world but it never feels like they leave America or take not of literally the long history of gaming in other cultures and in general. Games have radically changed since Donkey Kong and players today are arguably superior in skill to those of yesteryear due to a wider variety of games and growing up with games at an earlier age. Which begs the question; do these filmmakers even like video games? They sure don’t seem to get what make video games fun. They seem to treat it more as a useless skill that only pays off if you have to save the world in a contrived series of events. It’s usually an insult to a film to say it feels more like someone playing a video game than a real movie, but this film honestly could have used more of that mentality to make it a bit more fun.
I have so much more to say but I fear shoving it all here would double this rants already 4 page length. Pixels is bad, uncompromisingly bad. The weirdest thing is I have no clue who this movie is meant for. Sandler’s films are usually aimed at the family demographic with kids in mind, but kids don’t have nostalgia for the arcade circuit of the 80’s. They play Pac-Man but the environment has changed, what they’re showing can only be nostalgic to those that grew up in the 80’s and lived it. All the humor however is aimed at younger audiences, and it’s not even humor I would feel comfortable showing a kid. I wouldn’t show this to my child. I couldn’t imagine subjecting a child to this movie, except for maybe the visual effects that might distract them. I still wouldn’t do that however; they might pick up a bad habit or two from watching this. This was such a great concept too; it’s based on a wonderful little short film that I imagine is shorter than the trailer for this train wreck. The short has no plot, but it essentially has all the best moments of destruction from this film and will satisfy you more than Sandler ever could. But the sad reality of it all is Sandler will continue to do this. He plays to the lowest common denominator and in the theater you can tell. I could hear laughter but I couldn’t understand what the joke was, was the joke on me? No, because the fact is like all of Sandler’s films, audiences eventually wise up. You may laugh at first but if you even think about the film afterwards you can see the all the flaws. Audiences aren’t stupid, and there’s a reason his films make less and less every year. We love mindless fun, but we hate crap, and though he may argue otherwise, Adam Sandler is a purveyor of just that. The once hilarious SNL cast member and occasional brilliant performer has probably dug his career’s grave by this point considering the whole Sony scandal. I think with the emergence of Amy Schumer and a whole new generation of comedians, we can finally get beyond this mind numbing sub-genre of comedy and lay it to rest where it belongs, straight down the crapper. I’m known to be generous in my ratings, but Pixels is getting my lowest possible rating. I highly recommend you either rent Punch-Drunk-Love or you go see something else, anything else would be better.
Also Q*bert pees himself in this movie, because life sucks.