A review of “Pixels,” which stars Adam Sandler as the leader of a team of former arcade-game champions charged with saving the world from an invasion of 1980s video-game characters. Rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.
“Pixels,” the action/comedy in which Adam Sandler leads a team of former arcade-game champions to save the world from an invasion of 1980s video-game characters, wants badly to be “Ghostbusters.” Except it doesn’t want to be “Ghostbusters” quite badly enough to make much of an effort, and the end result is an inexpensive-looking, cheerfully lazy semi-adventure. And Sandler is not Bill Murray, to put it mildly.
Movie Review ★½
‘Pixels,’ with Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Brian Cox. Directed by Chris Columbus, from a screenplay by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling. 106 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments. Several theaters.
(Now that I think of it: Both Sandler and Murray could be described as performers in similar terms — effortless, deadpan, a trademark persona. It’s just that Murray’s apparent lack of effort — or, perhaps, the amount of effort he puts into looking like he isn’t trying, or maybe just his naturally funny charisma — adds up to something compelling. Sandler’s regular-dude-who-happened-to-wander-onto-a-film-set shtick is less so.)
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Anyway, here we have Sandler bringing his usual level of energy to the role of Sam Brenner, a regular guy and home-video installer who happens to be best friends with the president of the United States (Kevin James). That’s how he winds up front and center when, for reasons I’ll skip over, 1980s video-game creatures like Pac-Man, Centipede, Frogger and Donkey Kong begin to attack the great capitals of the world. To fight and destroy them, Brenner is joined by the president, old gaming pal Ludlow (Josh Gad), old gaming nemesis Eddie (Peter Dinklage) and requisite Sole Woman In The Movie With More Than Three Lines, Lt. Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), who’s some sort of military scientist in tight pencil skirts.
Theoretically, this could have been a lot of fun, particular for those with fond memories of ’80s video gamery. (Hey, where’s Ms. Pac-Man?) When attacked, buildings — and people — turn into pixels and crumble away, complete with goofy arcade-game sound effects. “Pixels,” directed by Chris Columbus, has a couple of laugh-worthy moments: particularly a kid in India who responds to the pixelling of the Taj Mahal by (what else?) taking a selfie, and a very funny cameo from a well-known sports figure. But the special effects are competent rather than dazzling, and the whole enterprise quickly runs out of steam long before its end. Who you gonna call? Not these guys.