Arcade Game Comedy "Pixels" Is Hyperbolically Bad

Bad movie “Pixels” is just the latest pock mark on Adam Sandler’s still downtrending career, only noteworthy in its unprecedented slothfulness. The former box office juggernaut can’t even be bothered to keep up appearances anymore. He’s so clearly disinterested by what’s going on around him that when an obvious stunt double is brought in for a brief running scene, it should surprise exactly zero people.

More damningly, Sandler – professional comedian – doesn’t even attempt to say or do anything remotely funny in the movie. By comparison, his underwhelming supporting cast (Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan) is devastatingly funny. (They’re not very funny.)

In Sandler’s defense (sort of), the movie would be an ordeal with or without him. Plug any middle-aged white guy into the role of schlubby consumer electronics installer Dale Brenner and the film is more or less the same. And since “Pixels” is, at its heart, a celebration of dumb white men, Dale Brenner might be the only thing the movie gets right. He’s a nothing character with a vague contempt for women who ultimately becomes a savior only out of necessity. Truly a hero for our times.

Based on a pretty nifty short film of the same name, the film predictably stretches its “aliens attack Earth with 80s arcade game characters” perilously thin.

Brenner is a former arcade whiz kid whose best friend, Will, just happens to be the President of the United States (Kevin James, fronting the movie’s ploy to be the least believable ever made). Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage round out the pic’s quartet of former gamers, ultimately tasked with saving the world from larger-than-life manifestations of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and others.

Gad is the show-stealer by default, screaming his way through the film as the man-child among man-children, while Dinklage delivers what’s certainly a career-worst performance, fully committed to a vaguely racist vocal affect.

Through no fault of her own, Michelle Monaghan’s character is the movie’s nadir. Violet von Patten is a demeaning hybrid of hot mom and snobby bitch who turns out to be a Lieutenant Colonel. But somehow, her place as love interest (to Brenner) isn’t the film’s most tasteless characterization. No, that’d be Ashley Benson’s turn as a “hawt” video game character that’s literally presented as a trophy at film’s end.

Director Chris Columbus (“Home Alone,” “Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone”) is no stranger to big-budget spectacle and he does what he can with the action scenes. But with a screenplay that has so little understanding of its source material (it doesn’t even get Donkey Kong right) and so much disdain for its female characters, Columbus unavoidably goes down with the ship.

Moviegoers looking for an arcade game fix would be much better served seeking out terrific Donkey Kong doc “The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters.” God knows Adam Sandler doesn’t need any more of your money.

And if “Pixels” isn’t the comedian’s worst effort to date (not many things are worse than “Blended”), it’s certainly not for a lack of trying. But at least Q*bert is kind of cute.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: July 24, 2015
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Director: Chris Columbus
Screenwriter: Tim Herlihy, Tim Dowling
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Ashley Benson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some language and suggestive comments)