Director: Chris Columbus
Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James
1 Globe (out of 5)
The key image in “Pixels” is Q*bert urinating. It’s not that it’s offensive or anything, but it is stupid — below lowest common denominator, existing only because someone ordered a poor programmer with crippling student debt to make a classic arcade character pixel-pee. It’s everything that’s wrong with the film in one surreal, can’t-unsee image: unlimited resources and a pretty good premise in the hands of people who just want to make bathroom jokes. Naturally one of those people is Adam Sandler. His latest vehicle — in which his team expanded upon a delightful two-minute French short — depicts a war between humankind and an alien race that has adopted the form of blocky early ’80s video games. But the real battle is between the high-concept, effects-heavy blockbuster and the slovenly, lazy, by this point arrogant cinema of its star — two things that go together like nuts and gum, which is to say because some overrepresented demographic likes them both.
Sandler looks either comatose or irritated, depending on the moment, as Sam, once an arcade god whose defeat at a championship by a cocksure joystick king (played in adulthood by Peter Dinklage, with a dye-blonde mullet, delivering all his lines in an exhausting asshole twang) so crushed him that he grew up to be a sadsack gizmo repairman. (Meanwhile, his bestie, played by Kevin James, became a president who resembles Bush, but as a reluctant hawk.) Sam finds his services required when belligerent E.T.s mistake a satellite of old video games as a declaration of war, challenging earthlings to a series of duels using the likes of Centipede, Space Invaders and, in a twist that’s either clever or disrespectful, or both, even good guy Pac-Man.
What follows is a series of battles, and Sandler admittedly does perk up once he’s running around with giant guns, zapping low-res baddies. Director Chris Columbus — once upon a time the screenwriter of "Gremlins" — delivers some (mostly half-hearted) attempts to deliver the madcap goods, but usually his star's dragging the film down to his sleepy/annoyed level. Sandler used to segue between stoned slacker and fulminating hothead; even when a respectable type like Paul Thomas Anderson wasn’t exploiting it, for the masterpiece “Punch-Drunk Love,” it was a not un-entertaining shtick.