Combustible Celluloid
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With: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Matt Lintz, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Jane Krakowski, Dan Aykroyd, Affion Crockett, Lainie Kazan, Ashley Benson, Denis Akiyama, Tom McCarthy
Written by: Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling, based on a short film by Patrick Jean
Directed by: Chris Columbus
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments
Running Time: 105
Date: 07/24/2015

Pixels (2015)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

No Quarters

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Lightly improving upon Adam Sandler's recent lazy, slapdash comedies Jack and Jill, Blended, and Grown-Ups and its sequel, Chris Columbus's new Pixels is a good-looking, professional polished summer popcorn movie.

It even has a few laughs and a few nostalgic riffs. But eventually, like an old arcade game, the whole thing feels two-dimensional, and all surface.

Sandler — somehow the least funny person in the movie — plays Sam Brenner, a sad-sack nerd who installs electronic equipment for a living.

As a kid in 1982, Sam nearly won a video game championship, playing the likes of Pac-Man, Centipede, Galaga, and Donkey Kong, but lost to the cocky Eddie Plant.

The results of that contest were bundled up in a time capsule with other examples of earth culture and shot into space for extraterrestrial life to discover. Decades later, the aliens attack, using the giant-sized video game characters as weapons.

Sam's childhood pal, Will Cooper (Kevin James), now the President of the United States, assembles a team consisting of Sam, Eddie (Peter Dinklage), and conspiracy buff Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), to fight back.

Sam also has a meet-cute with Lieutenant Colonel Violet van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), essentially so that they can bicker and banter throughout.

Gad's surprisingly versatile voice (he brought Olaf to life in Disney's Frozen) and Dinklage's unapologetic Game of Thrones swagger provide about a half-dozen giggles, but Sandler is stuck in a doe-eyed, earnest mode.

All of the characters are given a single personality trait, planted that day in 1982, that rules their lives. Sam, for example, has always been "second place," while Eddie still wears the same mullet haircut and "bitchin'" glasses.

Pixels references many 1980s icons, but doesn't subvert them, doesn't have any opinion other than their actual existence. It merely indicates them. ("Look! It's Mario!" "It's Madonna!" "Um... wow!")

One 1980s pop culture item it might have referenced is The Last Starfighter (1984), which has a very similar plot. (Kid beats video game, has actually trained for real-life battle against aliens.)

It also recalls the much cleverer Galaxy Quest, as well as Wreck-It-Ralph, which impressively invented an original game with a retro 1980s feel.

Still, Bay Area director Columbus brings the same color and dazzle to Pixels that he brought to his Harry Potter films.

Everything sparkles and shines, and the giant digital monsters are worth a few "oohs" and "ahs," but the movie also goes through the motions, as if stuck in a maze.

Pixels is passable, but probably better to save your fistful of quarters for something more challenging.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release has a beautiful picture, but includes the new Dolby Atmos sound mix. I suppose if you have the right equipment, this sounds great, but on my TV, all it did was make the sound effects really loud and the dialogue really soft. There are few short video game-related extras, a music video, a photo gallery, and previews. There's also the option to download a play-along app, which I did not try.

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