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Movie Review: 'Pixels'

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Comedies featuring Adam Sandler of late have challenged the patience and intelligence of even the most forgiving of viewers.

Take Grown Ups, Jack and Jill, That's My Boy, and Grown Ups 2.


But his latest starring vehicle, Pixels, comes from Chris Columbus, the veteran director of Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and two Harry Potter flicks.

The result?

A slight improvement over the Sandler fiascos listed above, but a strained and messy enterprise that's more depressing than impressive.

(2 stars out of 4)

Pixels is a special effects-driven science fiction comedy about retro video games and their central involvement in an alien invasion.

When intergalactic aliens receive a time capsule launched into outer space by NASA, they interpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war. Consequently, they attack the Earth in the form of larger-than-life video game characters.

That means that, in essence, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Centipede, Galaga, Arkanoid, Tetris, and Space Invaders, among others, have invaded our planet.

So the U.S. President, Will Cooper, played by Kevin James – you read that right -- calls on a childhood friend, one Sam Brenner, played by Sandler, who was a video game phenom in the 1980s to rescue the country from the disaster of an extraterrestrial onslaught.

The supporting cast is led by Michelle Monaghan as Lieutenant Violet van Patten, a weapons developer and single-mom romantic involvement for Sandler; Josh Gad as conspiracy theorist and all-around oddball Ludlow Lamonsoff; and Peter Dinklage as Eddie Plant, Brenner's former video game-playing nemesis, a guy who calls himself the "Fire Blaster" and will stop at nothing to come out on top in any kind of competition.

There are surprise cameo appearances as well.

The screenplay by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, based on a short film of the same name by Patrick Jean that went viral, offers plenty in the way of eighties nostalgia for older viewers that will be relatively unfamiliar to the young viewers at whom most of the film's slapstick bits are aimed. But while this severely flawed enterprise is going for childlike, what it ends up seeming is childish, as if its principals were youngsters playing dress-up.

Part of the problem is that the technical gimmick that made the short film work so well begged for considerable fleshing out, as opposed to just an increase in the running time, as it was being converted into a full-length narrative. But the screenwriters did little in the way of providing flesh-and-blood characters to the mix.

And the plot-plot-my-kingdom-for-a-plot conceit of this group of characters "saving the world" is several rewrites short of half-baked.

Oh, there are sporadic laughs sprinkled throughout, compliments of Sandler, Gad, and Dinklage. But the third act nearly abandons the emphasis on comedy and becomes an action vehicle highlighted by the extravagant – and overdone – special effects.

Unfortunately, Columbus seems to have adopted producer Sandler's signature casualness and sloppiness. And that the film can be described as a kidflick does little to excuse the complete lack of verisimilitude. It's difficult to escape the feeling that just about everyone involved is in over their heads.

Actually, all you need to know early on that stops the film from having any feeling of sci-fi reality or credibility is the casting of Kevin James as the President of the United States. James is a talented comic performer, but he is so woefully miscast here, he might as well be wearing a DON'T TAKE ANYTHING THAT FOLLOWS SERIOUSLY sign.

Someone call producer Sandler and alert him to this obvious truth.

Meanwhile, we'll drop a quarter in 2 stars out of 4 for Pixels. Silver lining: at least there will be minimal disappointment when GAME OVER flashes.

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