by George Wolf
So, in Pixels, Kevin James is the President of the United States.
I’ll pause and let you collect your thoughts.
President Will Cooper hasn’t lost touch with the common folk, especially his childhood BFF Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), who’s now a “geek squad” type techie at a box store. Back in the 1980s, the pair ruled the arcades with mastery on all the popular video games, and those skills come in pretty handy once a pixelated attack comes out of the sky.
It seems aliens got a look at a space probe from 1982 and confused some video game footage as a battle challenge from Earth. They may also be punishing us for making “Pac-Man Fever” such a big hit, but the point is, once the centipedes attack, it’s clear the military’s best option is to turn things over to the “losers who are good at old video games.”
It’s actually a pretty fun premise, sprung from a 2010 short film by Patrick Jean. Expanded by director Chris Columbus and the Sandler-friendly writing team of Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, it becomes an occasionally inspired 80s throwback with a couple of winning comedic performances.
That couple isn’t James and Sandler, who both sleepwalk through their roles with little interest and less comic timing. Peter Dinklage, though, is a gas as Eddie, a former video game champion refusing to let go of the past. With mullet and attitude straight out of King of Kong (please see it if you haven’t), Dinklage brings some welcome mischief, while Josh Gad is instantly likable as Ludlow, nerdiest of the grown-up gamers.
Left alone, Dinklage, Gad, and the alien video game battles would have gotten Pixels closer to the Ghostbusters reboot it aspires to be. But Dan Aykroyd’s cameo only reinforces how badly this movie needs a Bill Murray type-presence, and Sandler is not it. His lazy-off with James just dilutes the fun, and renders Brenner’s flirtation with a military weapons specialist (Michelle Monaghan, wasted) DOA.
Columbus does his best to fill the screen with blasts of 3-D love for the 80s, but it isn’t long before the gimmick of Pixels wears thin, and running out of quarters doesn’t seem as bad as you remember.