Do you love classic arcade games like Centipede and Pac-Man? But didn’t you always wish those games had Adam Sandler yammering strategy on the sidelines? The makers of ‘Pixels’ really hope that people like you exist, as well as anyone who can stomach Sandler at all. Don’t concern yourself too much with the plot (they didn’t). You only need to know that aliens are invading earth disguised as beloved eight-bit avatars, and the coin jockeys of yore, including Sandler’s lonely tech geek, are our only hope of survival.
Stranger things happen in ‘Pixels’: Kevin James can play the President of the United States (proving there’s still hope for Donald Trump) and rises heroically to the occasion when the battleground calls for a stone-cold expert at that descending claw game. The usually appealing Michelle Monaghan, as a military officer, can somehow fall for Sandler’s Mr Average without requiring him to brush his teeth (a running joke) or shape up at all.
But the truly mystifying thing about the movie is how desperately it caters to Gen-X junk nostalgia without bothering to think that maybe these kids have grown up a bit. ‘Pixels’ plays the ‘Ghostbusters’ card hard, clothing its warriors in matching jumpsuits and swarming them with cheering New York crowds. But these gestures feel unearned. The movie’s graphics have a blockiness that registers as cheap, not sly, while even the presence of Peter Dinklage as a vain videogame champ can’t help but play like a casting stunt. Sandler’s exhaustion is obvious. How many extra lives does the guy get?