In Theatres: 
Jul 24, 2015
Running Time: 
105 minutes

The original Pixels is a fun little short film that fantasized what it would be like if aliens invaders in the form of classic arcade games invaded our planet. It was a simple concept that catered on nostalgia and worked well as a two and a half minute video showing the various manners in which our favorite pixelated games of the past could destroy a city. What works for short film doesn’t necessarily work for a full-length feature, however, as Pixels finds out the hard way.


Growing up, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) was the king of arcade games, having memorized their patterns and devised the best strategies to win. Together with his best friend Will Cooper (Kevin James) he managed to come in second place at the inaugural video games championship tournament, losing to the arrogant, self-titled Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage). Decades later and their lives have drastically changed. Sam installs TVs and other equipment in homes while Will is the President of the United States, but the two still remain close friends. When a mysterious attack on a military facility bears a striking resemblance to the arcade game Galaga, the President goes to the people who are the most knowledgeable about the subject, the gamers he grew up with.


Pixels’ explanation for arcade games invading the Earth to destroy it comes from the idea that NASA sent a video of that inaugural video game tournament into space with a bunch of other pop culture stuff, and aliens took it as a threat so they’ve come to Earth in the form of what they saw to challenge them for the planet itself. Like most of the film’s story, it’s a barely passable explanation of the events that unfold. What makes the short so brilliant is that it doesn’t need some complicated explanation or story; it’s just a fun little short. The film struggles to find a working story and instead relies upon flatly delivered jokes that fail to impress.


Aliens invading Earth disguised as arcade games is actually the most believable aspect of Pixels. The aliens give Earth three “lives” and losing all of them will result in the Earth’s destruction. Each invasion is a larger than life version of a classic arcade game like Centipede, Pac-Man, and Breakout.


I’d be more interested in a film about how Kevin James managed to get elected the President of the United States. For some inexplicable reason, President Will decides to go out drinking at the bar and throw fancy galas in between invasions. This is all after the Earth has already lost twice and is down to their final life, too. James works well in the loveable buffoon role. It just doesn’t work when that role is also the President.


The only solace I found in the film came from Josh Gad, who plays another arcade friend of theirs and government conspiracist, Ludlow Lamonsoff. He at least garners a few laughs, mostly when he’s yelling insults at a group of marines he’s supposed to teach video games to. Still it’s not enough of a distraction from the ridiculous nature of everything else.


At one point a pixelated Smurf makes an appearance for some reason just so Adam Sandler can make a quick joke. There’s also Lady Lisa (Ashley Benson), a character from a game that Ludlow is obsessed with, who happens to be the only alien that isn’t pixelated and ends up being a literal trophy wife of Ludlow’s. It’s all a confusing mess that’ll leave you wondering what you just watched.


Pixels attempts to stretch a 3-minute short into an hour and 40 minute film and fails spectacularly. It says something when the 8-bit animation playing during the end credits that sums up the entire plot is better than the film itself. Honestly, I’ve never been happier to see the Game Over screen.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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