I laughed approximately zero times during Pixels. I basically sat in slack-jawed awe for 105 minutes, flabbergasted at how a movie could be so aggressively terrible. Here’s the real kicker: I walked into the theater in the film’s corner. I really wanted to like it. As someone who grew up loving classic arcade games like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, I felt a wave of nostalgia when I saw the trailer for Pixels a few months ago. After viewing the finished product, I am here to report that Pixels is legitimately awful. Like, in-your-face awful.
I won’t spend much time on the plot, because the movie doesn’t, but here we go: “Moron aliens”, as Adam Sandler’s Sam Brenner calls them, decide to invade earth after being exposed to classic arcade games from the 1980s and misinterpreting them as a declaration of war. Mimicking these arcade game characters, the aliens set up a series of battles against the citizens of earth. If we win, the aliens go away. If we lose, the aliens annihilate our planet. The president (Kevin James … yes, Kevin James plays the president) seeks help from his BFF (Sandler), a renowned video game champion from the ’80s who now works a thankless job installing electronics. Throw in Sandler’s feisty, villainous archnemesis from childhood (Peter Dinklage) and conspiracy theorist/gamer extraordinaire Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and you now have a modern day team of Ghostbusters ready to take down the aliens. (Apologies to everyone involved in making Ghostbusters, an exponentially better film, for even mentioning it in the same sentence as Pixels.)
The plot of Pixels begins with an interesting premise and then takes a giant dump on that premise, repeatedly. The aliens can only be defeated by “light energy” or something of the sort, which the movie never really explains. Also, they are composed of a similar pixelated energy, which destroys anything it touches, except for roads or anything else the plot requires. For example, if the pixelated aliens touch a car, it is immediately destroyed, but they can walk on roads and scale buildings without a speck of damage done. Come again? As stated earlier, my jaw was on the floor for most of the movie’s running time. In fact, I am legitimately worried I’m dumber after being exposed to this nonsensical, lazy garbage.
The only thing Pixels hates more than its own plot is women. Pixels hates women. Poor, sweet, criminally unknown Michelle Monaghan plays a high-ranking military officer and Sandler’s “love interest.” He meets her while on the job at her home; she rejects him after he grossly hits on her while she’s crying about being dumped by her husband for Sinnamon (with an S), his Pilates instructor. Sandler then spends the rest of the movie calling her “Snobby,” so naturally she falls in love with him. At least Monaghan is given somewhat of a character, though. The other women in the film do not fare nearly as well. Comic powerhouse Jane Krakowski plays the president’s wife, and I think she has two lines that resemble something like “uh huh” and “sounds good.” Her biggest moment in the film requires her to decorate a cake and giggle. Seriously.
Still, she’s not the most offensive female character in the movie. That distinction belongs to Ashley Benson, playing a mute, real-life version of Gad’s childhood video game crush. Benson beams to earth as a pixelated alien, but then inexplicably morphs into a human and starts aiding our heroes in the battle against her own kind before falling in love with Gad (of note: she has no lines, she literally says nothing). Remember when I said the aliens’ only weakness is “light energy” or whatever? Benson’s character wields swords and cuts through her alien nemeses like butter, which yet again compels me to ask, “What? Huh?” I should add that Pixels was directed by Chris Columbus, who’s also made wonderful films like Home Alone, Adventures in Babysitting, and Mrs. Doubtfire. Here he proves sometimes people do not get better or more talented with age.
The best advice for anyone who wants to see Pixels is to not see Pixels. Honestly, if you’re contemplating ripping all of your teeth out with rusty pliers or seeing Pixels, you may be better off with the pliers. Watch the thrilling documentary The King of Kong for a nostalgic trip down memory lane. I think Dinklage’s villain is based off of Donkey Kong champ Billy Mitchell, one of The King of Kong’s stars. That movie, with one-ten-thousandth of Pixels’ budget, manages to be legitimately thrilling rather than stupid, sophomoric, and just plain bad.
Director: Chris Columbus
Writers: Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling
Starring: Adam Sandler, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Jane Krakowski, Ashley Benson
Release Date: July 24, 2015
Andy Herren is an adjunct professor and occasional reality show winner. When he’s not lying to people on national television, he contributes to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter. Olive Penderghast is his soulmate.