Pixels – 2015

Director Chris Columbus
Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Brian Cox, Ashley Benson, Jane Krakowski. Matt Lintz
Screenplay Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling

There will always be films like this. A comedian past his prime is relegated to following trends started by better films (Toy Story, Wreck-It Ralph) as a vessel to do the same film he’s been doing since Billy Madison. The story, a down on his luck good guy (Sandler) just getting by defies the odds and accomplishes some challenge, scoring a way above average woman (Monaghan) along the way. There are plenty of good guy buddies (James and Gad) and one bad guy buddy (Dinklage). There is an old-fogie contingent (Cox) who will never understand these newfangled ways.

The story always starts with some sort of disappointment. In this case, Sandler’s Sam Brenner coming in 2nd place in a Donkey Kong competition. This disappointment turns a future at Massachusetts MIT into a past at Mississippi MIT. There should always be some sort of hip kid (Lintz) who serves as a path from the protagonist to the woman of his dreams. This woman must reject Sandler at first, and then they will be thrown together by some task and that will lead to a brand new family where everyone is so happy.

The challenging task is a planet that got a message sent from Earth back in the early ’80’s. They took it as a threat and responded in kind. Earth is taken by surprise, which is easy to do when Sam’s friend William Cooper (James) is inexplicably serving as president. There is no attempt at explaining what makes Cooper worthy of being president, but suffice to say America’s standards can’t be that high in a Sandler comedy, where flashbacks of 1982 regularly reference things that were popular in 1986.

Back to the threat. It’s video games. They are attacking the world. Sometimes the invaders are the bad guy in the game, sometimes they are Pac-Man. The only reason one can learn for this is that there is a scene where Pac-Man looks cute but then does something unimaginably horrific. The payoff only works if Pac is a bad guy.

What’s to like in a movie like this? Well, Sandler for one. He fits in this role like a glove. And if he is rarely surprising, he rarely guesses wrong. We want to see him make fun of a room full of the President’s men. We also want to see him get the girl. He has reached that stage where he understands what he brings to the table, unlike, say, Robert Conrad in Battle of the Network Stars. No one is watching that to see you succeed, Bob.

James offers the same deal. Personally I was just glad there were no fat guy jokes. And if it made no sense to see him running a war room, it sure is nice seeing him get down, Hitch-style while at a formal event. Josh Gad is reaching that space, too. He’s almost as lovable as he is annoying. His act curtailed enough to keep from appearing threadbare. Dinklage’s character, underwritten as it is, succeeds only in that he is played by Peter Dinklage.

I am glad to see Monaghan still getting roles. She is engaging, even if in a limited role. The soundtracks to Sandler films are always fun too. It’s obvious that he and his friends like the same stuff me and my friends liked. Okay, I had no friends. Well, I did. But I worked at it, and now I am down to just two. At least I don’t have to help anyone move any more.

So yes, this is a Sandler film. And it is average. And yes, that is redundant. I didn’t go into it expecting Sonny to get killed at the toll booth, but I also didn’t expect to see Deuce Bigelow land in an old lady’s bed, either.

(**1/2 out of *****)

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