Misinterpreting footage of ’80s arcade games as a threat, aliens unleash Pac-Man, Donkey Kong et al on Earth.
The pitch, presumably, was “Independence Day meets Grown Ups”. All the tropes of blockbustergeddon filmmaking — a panicking Situation Room, bleeping sonar screens, crowds staring up into the sky — but with two novel twists. Firstly, inspired by a clever 2010 French short by Patrick Jean, the villains are classic 8-bit video-game characters. Secondly, the usual hero types are replaced by Adam Sandler and his slacker band, including Kevin James (yes, that Kevin James) as POTUS (yes, that POTUS). David Spade doesn’t turn up as director of the NSA, but probably only because of scheduling.
There was potential for a decent summer movie here. When the effects are in full flow, as in a third-act tangle with Donkey Kong where the camera frames Sandler and the barrel-flinging simian exactly like their arcade-game counterparts, Pixels delivers a novel rush. The notion of our retro pop culture being turned against us is a fun one. Unfortunately, the finished product boils down to three fun set-pieces and lots of dull, drecky filler. Sandler does his usual shtick as a self-pitying tech repairman who hits on the film’s only female character (Michelle Monaghan) while she’s crying in a cupboard. James gets cake on his face. Josh Gad yells 80 per cent of his lines as if he’s stuck down a well. Peter Dinklage inexplicably does a Jamaican accent. The movie, which is aimed at family audiences but built around references only over-30s would get, has a bit where lovable isometric blob Q*Bert pisses himself, shills Dan Aykroyd’s vodka brand and ends on a threesome joke.
Affable director Chris Columbus elevates the material a little (unlike, say, Grown Ups 2, there are shots here you will remember), but there’s little of the charm or wit of his Harry Potter entries. On the plus side, after Sony’s recent Smurfs films, the studio makes amends by Smurfin’ obliterating one of the little blue guys.
There’s a certain thrill to seeing humans face off against Frogger. If only as much care had been put into the living characters as the pixelated ones.