Pixels is a fun comedy film that doesn’t try hard to be funny. The situations provide most of the comedy, moving away from the recent trend of getting funny actors to essentially do a string of 2 minute comedy sketches in front of camera for 90 minutes and call it a comedy movie. This results in the film actually being interesting as well as funny rather than just a jumble of loosely connected scenes. Of course this film is a bit like that too and is specifically structured like the levels of a computer game.
The usual trope of geeky kids having the key to saving the world is twisted a little bit by allowing those kids to grow up into geeky adults first and therefore adding the extra dimension that the computer games that made them geeks are now obsolete and none of the current generation knows the tricks to beat them. The characters are not given a lot of back story or development. You don’t even get to find out how any of them ended up in the wildly diverse situations they find themselves in in adulthood. Like the video games they loved as kids our characters are simply thrown into the thick of the action with only a brief nod at plot and character.
Of course this leads to a film with superficial characters, flimsy plot and loads of plot holes but really who cares about all that when you have a 3-storey Pac-Man zooming about eating cars! There are some parts where it strays dangerously close to the kind of over the top “comedy” of The Watch and its like. This usually happens when either Adam Sandler or Josh Gad is given a little too much free reign. They try so hard to be funny and it just doesn’t work. Fortunately the directors seem to have their actors under control most of the time and allow the absurd situations and plot to drive the laughs.
When he is not clowning around, Sandler plays the down on his luck TV repairman turned saviour of the world well. You get a sense of depth to the character and his experiences that is barely hinted at by the script. Surprisingly he is really the only character with any depth. Michelle Monaghan is nice as Violet who is initially antagonistic towards Sandler’s character but develops a bond through adversity and shared interests. Unfortunately she is given far to little screen time and development. The fact that she is a military officer on the White House staff but the character’s name is only listed as Violet in the credits seems to indicate that the film doesn’t give her the respect she deserves.
Peter Dinklage is outrageously over the top as an off the rails gaming prodigy who somehow just never rings true. He’s obviously having a good time playing the bad-boy rockstar gamer character but most of the time he just looks and sounds ridiculous. He does have a few good moments though, mostly when the over the top façade slips.
The alien created video game “pixels” are the real stars of this film. It is brilliant to see some old favourites like Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders and even Tetris brought to life on the big screen as enemies of humanity. Of course, most of these are just there to get the crap blown out of them by our band of heroes. Confusingly sometimes it is not always the bad guys from the video games that our heroes must fight but sometimes the traditionally good guys as well.
There’s some really cheesy and at times frankly offensive cultural stereotyping when the crew visits England for one battle with the aliens. It seems that no American disaster movie can resist the temptation to visit European capitals to show that the whole world is affected (and therefore that the invariably American heroes are not just saving their homeland but also the rest of us too). This is always badly done but rarely worse than it is here. I get the sense that this may be a deliberate reference to more serious films but besides the cool action set pieces none of it is done well and the film would have done better to stick to its familiar surroundings in the US.
In all an amusing film with some great bits and some terrible bits. If you can ignore the occasional slips and you aren’t an overly sensitive Englishman you’ll probably enjoy it.