"That's my nickname, sugar buns."
Allow me to the be the first to dispel the myth that Pixels—the latest film from once competent director Chris Columbus and once reliable box office draw Adam Sandler—is a movie for dads and sons. That's been touted in the press as the film's main target, but any father taking his impressionable son to see Pixels is going to be greeted with a literally flawless protagonist whose only fault is he believes a lie that's been perpetrated on him for thirty years is actually true. The level of contempt that Sandler continues to harbor for the average, everyday schlubs who make up the core of his audience is detestable. The fact that these people continue to give their hard earned money to Sandler is baffling and ultimately disheartening. In a note of perhaps too much candor, I will confess that I paid for a ticket to see Inside Out, lest one cent of my money go toward supporting this dreck.
Pixels began life as an amusing short film that exploited the concept of low tech video game characters wreaking havoc in a modern world, turning everything into pixels into charming idea that runs less than three minutes. Never one to turn down the opportunity to stretch a three minute concept into a feature length film, Sandler's Happy Madison Productions snapped up the rights, seeing this as a novel way for Sandler to once again play the stunted man child who's actually a genius in unkempt disguise. As a teen, Sam Brenner (Sandler) and his best friend Will Cooper (Kevin James) were arcade whizzes who conquered the video game world, and whose only achilles heel came when facing Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage) in Donkey Kong.
The first and—for the record—only joke I was even remotely amused by in this film is the fact that Dinklage is done up, mullet and all, to resemble real life former Donkey Kong champ and hot sauce hocking egomaniac Billy Mitchell, the de facto villain of the brilliant documentary The King of Kong. This is where the film's creativity, at least from a character or story standpoint, reaches its peak and shows its only flash of actual brilliance. That this film forces us to then add Dinklage to the growing list of supporting actors too good for a Sandler film so they must eventually kowtow to his character's superiority only makes it sadder because Dinklage is quite literally the only thing this film has working in its favor. That score down there, Dinklage is the thing that kept it from being even lower.
But I digress. Now in the present day, Sam works for a "Geek Squad"-esque software installation company—which I can't believe wasn't actually Best Buy's Geek Squad what with Sandler's all-consuming attitude toward product placement in his films—and Will Cooper is the President of the United States. Yup, for as dumb as this country can be at times, Sandler thinks it's somehow even stupider than it actually is and would have voted for as incompetent and dimwitted a stooge as James plays. Now that I think about it, let's just leave that comment alone. Long story short, a message beamed to the cosmos thirty years ago containing footage of President Reagan alongside video game characters like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, is taken as a declaration of war and aliens send gigantic versions of these characters to attack Earth. Sandler and his video game champion buddies, with the blessing of President Fatty Make a Funny McBestFriend, are the only ones who can save us all.
One thing about Sandler's films that aided their charm early on was their low stakes. Seriously, think of an Adam Sandler movie where the stakes are any higher than "I'm gonna win over this woman who's way out of my league and then play tennis with John McEnroe or some other sports celebrity." Taking that same character—or himself—which he plays in all of those films and porting it over to a save the world conceit just makes it look even worse as a result. This is a great concept for a story, but Sandler and his grab-ass-playing buddies are the last who should be turning it into a film. In fact, this would have been a better big budget film for someone like a Colin Trevorrow or a Gareth Evans to direct. Their mischievousness might have really added something to the material.
The only thing I thought could potentially save the film was director Chris Columbus. Columbus is not a Sandler crony and so I thought perhaps he had the potential to reign in his worst tendencies, and while he's not a director with what I would call a distinctive style, even the most seasoned filmgoer would have a hard time believing he was behind the camera. Columbus' best asset as a director is his ability to work well with child actors, but when those child actors are in their forties, they're apparently all beyond his control. If Columbus is good at anything anymore, his post-Harry Potter work has yet to demonstrate it.
Now let's get to the female roles in this film. Michelle Monaghan plays Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten, a woman with a high ranking military position who just wants to sit in her closet, drink wine, and cry because her husband left her. Thank goodness Schlubby Sandler is nearby to, I don't know, give her a fucking fixer upper project. Then there's Jane Krakowski as the shrill, shrewish, nagging first lady, who also joins the club of Kevin James love interests that aren't merely out of his league but playing another sport entirely. And speaking of sports, what would an Adam Sandler movie be without taking a celebrated sports star, in this film's case Serena Williams, and as long as they're female, put them in a tight dress that shows off their boobies. I can hear the writers giggling about it and then giving themselves the rest of the day off to pat one another on the back. Finally, the less said about the virtually mute and sexily dressed Lady Lisa played by Ashley Benson, the better.
I hate to keep harping on this point every single time I am forced to endure another Adam Sandler film, but there's no joy in his work anymore. Once upon a time, he looked like he was having fun, mainly because he was playing the obnoxious underdog in a given scenario. Now he's just a rich, mopey piece of shit who has to be the best at everything, setting up even more obnoxious villains in his films, almost all of whom eventually come around to admit that Sandler's winning attitude is enough to make them admit they were wrong in doing him some injustice. This has even begun playing itself out behind the scenes as well, where he writes off cultural insensitivity and reinforcement of sexist gender stereotyping when casting his female co-stars as just collateral damage to his creation of such uproariously funny films. Allow me to say—but certainly not be the first to say—that these movies are not funny, entertaining, or of a high enough quality to be backed up with such a douchey, laissez-faire attitude as he's courted this entire century.
GO Rating: 1/5
[Photos via Coming Soon]