Thursday, July 30, 2015


Combine “Independence Day” with “Ghostbusters” and then insert Adam Sandler in another of his immature man-child roles as the hero, and you’ve got the premise of “Mrs. Doubtfire” director Chris Columbus’ predictable but palatable “Pixels” (** of ****), a nostalgic science-fiction fantasy about the bygone video game arcade era.  Initially, you might think Columbus and "Mr. Deeds" writer Tim Herlihy and "Just Go with It" scribe Timothy Dowling have done little more than synthesize elements of “Independence Day” and “Ghostbusters” for the former “Saturday Night Live” alumnus.  Actually, the filmmakers have adapted French director Patrick Jean’s ephemeral, two minute short “Pixels” (2010) about extraterrestrial space invaders that masquerade as vintage video game characters.  Sadly, everything about Columbus’ “Pixels” adaptation is wholesome and lukewarm rather than imaginative and mischievous.  Since he slipped into middle-age, the 48-year old Sandler hasn’t made anything as audacious as his early, lowest-common-denominator farces: “Billy Madison” (1995), “Happy Gilmore” (1996), “The Waterboy” (1998), “Big Daddy” (1999), and “Little Nicky” (2000).  Later, Sandler appeared in comedies with a slightly higher IQ such as his critically acclaimed “Punch Drunk Love” (2002), “Anger Management” (2003) with Jack Nicholson, “50 First Dates” (2004) with Drew Barrymore, “Click” (2006) with Christopher Walken, and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” (2007) with Kevin James.  Just as he explored new facets with his image in “Punch Drunk Love,” Sandler ventured even farther afield with Judd Apatow’s heavyweight “Funny People” (2009) as a comedian stricken with cancer. Sadly, he doesn't turn any corners in "Pixels."

Sandler’s recent big screen efforts have overshadowed neither “Punch Drunk Love” nor “Funny Business.”  Indeed, “Pixels” is just as desultory as “Just Go for It” (2011), “Grown-Ups” (2010), its sequel “Grown-Ups 2” along with his two obnoxious farces “Jack and Jill” (2011) and “That’s My Boy” (2012).  Although nothing about “Pixels” is likely to affront or alienate anybody like “Jack and Jill” or “That’s My Boy,” Sandler’s shenanigans as a video gamer wronged in his youth comes off as strictly superficial.  Nevertheless, Columbus has fashioned a straightforward but humorless escapade with some amusing characters that are eclipsed by impressive CGI renderings of several 8-bit video characters, including “PAC-MAN,” “Donkey Kong,” “Galaga,” “Centipede,” and “Space Invaders.” 

“Pixels” unfolds in 1982 as 13-year old Sam Brenner (Anthony Ippolito) and his best friend Will Cooper (Jared Riley) swing astride their banana-seat bikes and spin off to the first video game arcade to open in their town.  Not only does Sam discover he possesses a knack for defeating Pac-Man and Centipede, but Cooper and he make friends with lonely 8-year-old Ludlow Lamonsoff (Jacob Shinder) whose only friend is his grandmother.  Eventually, Sam takes his gift for predicting video games patterns to a Donkey Kong Championship.  Unfortunately, he comes in second place to his chief adversary, self-centered 13-year-old Eddie (Andrew Bambridge), who dubs himself ‘The Fire Blaster.’  Interestingly enough, NASA seals up competition footage in a time capsule and blasts it off into space aboard a rocket. Optimistically, NASA wanted to establish peaceful contact with any alien civilization. Like the best laid plans, NASA's efforts prove futile. Meantime, since Eddie trounced him, Sam has turned into a perennial slacker. Basically, Sam has lived a low-profile life.  He got married, but his wife cheated on him with their pediatrician.  Now, he installs home entertainment systems for a living.  Basically, Sam is a loser who has accepted his place in society. Actually, Sandler looks clownish in his bright orange Nerds company outfit that resembles the UPS drivers' summer outfit.  Unfortunately, Sam is nowhere near as colorful as his outfit. Meantime, Sam’s obese buddy Will plunged into politics and now sits in the Oval Office at the White House as our President.  Nevertheless, Will has an appalling habit of putting his foot in his mouth whenever he ventures out into the public eye.  His latest debacle involved reprimanding a Girl Scout during a reading initiative at a kindergarten when the child corrected his pronunciation.  Their friend Ludlow (Josh Gad of “The Wedding Ringer”) has turned into a conspiracy theorist who covers his walls with crazy newspaper stories.

Suddenly, one night at a U.S. Airbase in Guam, a mysterious force attacks, leaves the base in a shambles of millions of cubes, and abducts a security guard.  The President assembles his advisors and summons Sam for his input.  One of the President’s advisors is Lieutenant Colonel Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan of “Source Code”) who has just separated from her philandering husband.  Violet’s hubby cheated on her with his 19-year old Pilates instructor.  Before they race each other to the White House, Sam and Violet meet at her house after he arrived to install a home entertainment system.  The home entertainment center is a farewell gift from Violet's husband to his son. Violet and Sam sit in her closet and swap sentimental stories so Violet’s son Matty (Matt Lintz of “The Crazies”) won’t see her grieve. Anyway, an enigmatic alien race has acquired the NASA footage, but it has misconstrued it as a challenge to fight to the death.  Miraculously, Sam’s superb video game skills once again make him a highly sought-off individual, and President Cooper assigns both Sam and Ludlow to teach Navy SEALS how to fight these aliens.  Lieutenant Colonel Van Patten has analyzed the cube debris from the Guam base and has created light-blasting ray guns that shatter the aliens.  Incredibly, this is one of the few instances where a woman is allowed to compete with men and actually help them! President Cooper refuses to act quickly enough to prevent another attack, and the aliens destroy the Taj Mahal.  Imagine a disaster movie where no architectural icons aren't obliterated. At least, "Pixels" plays for high stakes.  

Later, to heighten the suspense, the aliens abduct Matty, but his life doesn't hang in the balance.   Predictably, our heroes whip the aliens with indifferent nonchalance in this PG-13 rated hokum.  The showdowns with Pac-Man and Donkey Kong generate the greatest suspense, and the special effects look terrific.  The funniest scene occurs when the fictional creator of PAC-MAN, Professor Iwatani (Denis Akiyama of “Johnny Mnemonic”), tries to reason with a gargantuan replica of his computer-generated son and gets his forearm eaten off.  Columbus borrowed the scene from the original Howard Hawks’ chiller “The Thing from Another World.”  Not even diminutive Peter Dinklage as the adult version of Eddie can imbue any spontaneity to this attractive but anemic laffer.  Altogether, “Pixels” qualifies as one of Sandler’s least memorable movies. 

No comments: