One-time funny man Adam Sandler has recently been making headlines for all the wrong reasons as he finds himself embroiled in a nasty racism row surrounding a comedy-western he’s currently shooting. But thanks to Pixels, making grossly offensive jokes about Native Americans won’t be the worst thing Sandler does this year.

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Based on Patrick Jean’s charmingly retro 2010 short film of the same name, this completely uncharming and witless feature film adaptation sees professional slacker man-child Sandler as professional slacker man-child Sam Brenner, whose life peaked in 1982 when he competed in the World Video Game Championship alongside paranoid conspiracy nut Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and diminutive douchebag Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage), narrowly losing first place to the latter in a game of Donkey Kong. The video of their epic arcade game face-off was then included by NASA as part of a sample of 1980’s human culture that was sent off on a probe into deep space on an attempt at making contact with extraterrestrial life.

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Well, contact was made, but unfortunately these faceless ET’s misconstrue the video as a challenge of war and so send a retaliatory force, all modeled on the classic arcade video games they found. Soon giant digitized versions of Pac-Man, Galaga, Centipede and more are running amok on Earth, forcing the US President to call on his gaming wunderkind childhood buddy Brenner and his motley crew of societal rejects – helped out by Michelle Monaghan’s military weapons developer Lieutenant Colonel Violet van Patten – to save the day. The US President, by the way, is played by Kevin James, which is a sentence that no socially stable, mentally unimpaired adult can say with a straight face.

And I hope you do get your laughs from the image of buffoonish Kevin James as the most powerful man in the world, as they’re certainly few and far between in Pixels. Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowlin’s terminally unfunny, often boneheaded script results in a cacophony of clunkers, with approximately 20 minutes of the film’s 105-minute running time passing before even the lightest of sniggers was coaxed out of the audience with whom I saw the movie. The situation didn’t get much better from there.

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Even diehard Sandler fanboys – who I am sure are out there, but who have clearly not yet mustered up the courage to make this admission in public (and who can blame them?) – may struggle to get their fix, as the actor tones down his usual over-the-top frat-boy ridiculousness, allowing Gad to now fill that screechy, annoyingly random role to mostly flat results. Not even the perennially awesome Peter Dinklage, boasting the greatest mullet the world has seen since MacGuyver stopped airing, can rescue this film from its doldrums.

Director Chris Columbus – who has made some hilariously fun rip-snorters in his time, like Home Alone 1 & 2 and penning both Gremlins and Goonies – seemed like a great pick on paper, as he’s successfully helmed big CGI-heavy blockbusters before in the first two Harry Potter movies, and experienced his heyday in the very era that this movie references so often, but here he phones it in, with one uninspired and dull set piece after the other.

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At least those set pieces boast some great visuals though, as the pixelized giant video game characters look retro-tastically amazing, and seeing them interact with the real world is surprisingly convincing. In fact, it’s one of these digital creations, Q*Bert, that is actually by far the most likeable and fun character in the entire film, often out-charming his on-screen human counterparts with ease. He is sure to be a huge hit with the young kids who watch this.

That’s if they actually watch the movie, because Pixels has left me a bit dumbfounded – emphasis on the “dumb” – as to exactly who the target market is here. Younger kids may get taken in by the brightly coloured CG-action, but won’t have any connection to the classic arcade game characters that make up so much of this movie, while older gamers – like myself – may get the gentlest of kicks out of seeing these childhood favourites up on the big screen again, but will probably not find any spark in the film’s low-brow humour and infantile gags.

I had my expectations set pretty low for Pixels, but apparently they weren’t low enough as this movie didn’t even have the common decency to be completely ridiculous, so that at least we could get some schadenfreude out of the deal. Instead we got a consummately boring, bad trip down gaming memory lane that blandly puts the “no” in nostalgia. Save your quarters.

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Last Updated: July 22, 2015

Summary
3

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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