…Where do I even begin?
If I have one flaw as a moviegoer (one flaw, ha!) its that when I hear about a movie being spectacularly bad, I feel the impulse to seek it out. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s something I’ve just accepted about myself. Sometimes this works out great; The Room has brought me massive amounts of joy since I first saw it years ago, and any person who can watch Troll 2 without laughing has no sense of humor.
But, more often than not, it doesn’t work out too well for me, because…well I wind up seeing movies that completely terrible. And I can’t recall any time this impulse has caused me more pain than when Jack and Jill won all the Razzies and I immediately decided I needed to see it. So I figured that, no matter how bad this was supposed to be, it could not possibly be worse than that.
The plot (word used loosely), based on a well regarded short film from a few years back, is devoted to Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), who was once legendarily good at 80s arcade games, because he could spot the patterns. Years later, his best friend William (Kevin James) is the President (no really, Kevin James is the President) while Sam is working as a Geek Squad member.
Anyway, as the movie opens, Earth is attacked by aliens who intercepted an Earth probe and interpreted footage of video games as a threat. They therefore take the form of classic video games, and challenge Earth to a 3 round tournament in order to…you know what, screw it. Remember the video game segment from the Futurama episode Anthology of Interest II? Yeah it’s that, but with Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad helping fight off the aliens.
Pixels is a difficult movie to review, because I have trouble pulling out specific moments to analyze and criticize. All of it blends into an unbearable mush, that feels like a thousand hours, despite being only 100 minutes long. It may not be the worst Adam Sandler film (I don’t know if he’s physically capable of making a movie worse than Jack and Jill without trying to make it terrible) but that doesn’t mean it’s ever in the same zip code as good.
The problems, as always the case with Sandler movies, all draw back to Sandler himself. Ignoring, for the moment, his poisonous lack of effort and completely dead comedic timing, why does he always have himself written in as a loser if he’s not going to act like one. Having a character who has been established as being an underpaid loser spending the entire movie backtalking military leaders and telling politicians what’s what is not only incongruous, it’s not remotely funny.
Of course, even if Adam Sandler wasn’t entirely checked out, it would be impossible to be funny with this script. Like other recent Happy Madison films, no one involved in the writing seems to understand how to structure a joke. There’s no setup and payoff, things just happen. At one point a robot who appears to be a conehead shows up, and I kept waiting for some joke to be made about it, but no, he just hangs around in the background. Because he’s a robot, with a larger than normal head. How hilarious.
The good elements of the cast as as underutilized as possible. Peter Dinklage is a man with a lot of charisma and acting ability, but he’s stuck here as a one note “Loser Who Thinks He’s Cool.” Josh Gad can be hysterical in the right role, and he’s trying his hardest, but he’s given absolutely nothing to work with (although he does generate the one actual laugh I had, when he sang “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”). At one point Jane Krakoski, aka Jenna from 30 Rock shows up and literally does nothing, just hangs around in the background. Why cast he if you’re not going to let her be funny?
An inordinate amount of the movie’s time and budget is given over to the extended sequences where the video games are reenacted. I would like to go on a rant about how a lack of dramatic engagement kills these scenes, but honestly I’m just trying to figure out what the rules are. What the lead characters are and what their goals are seems to shift from scene to scene. At one point in the Pac-Man segment Peter Dinklage uses a f**king cheat code, and I’m still unclear on how he entered it, or how it was supposed to work (did it alter reality? Come on movie, give me something).
And there are more things I could talk about. The movie’s pacing is entirely off, with far too much second act and barely any first. The dialogue from ‘Relatively painless’ to ‘Oh god, please shut your mouths.’ The attempts at appealing to nerds are so forced and awkward that they make The Big Bang Theory look nuanced (one of the games Sandler criticizes as too violent is The Last of Us, a game which was intentionally and explicitly critical of violence, but why bother researching anything?), one of the only female character is literally (LITERALLY, in context of the story) a trophy for a male character. But why bother putting that much effort in when I know the filmmakers didn’t? If I went into detail about everything wrong with this move, this review would be 100,000 words. All you need to know is this:
I said at the beginning of the review that there was no way this movie could be worse than Jack and Jill and I was right; It looks like a real movie and its product placement is at least not as obtrusive. But it does represent a turning point in my approach to Sandler. Before, I realized, I was holding out hope that he could turn it around, remembering his few good movies. I was, in essence, trying to hold onto the fact that he could make all these terrible movies mean something.
But now? Now, as I stare at his filmography with dispassionate loathing, I realize that’s gone. Even as I’m trying to remember his good movies, both similar to this (Billy Madison) and not (Punch Drunk Love) and I can’t think of what movie he could possibly make it worth all this. No movie he could possibly make could be worth this ocean of garbage he’s putting out. And what’s more, I don’t think he wants to make that movie.
What do you call Adam Sandler at this point? Not a sellout, that has become far too generous. Here is a man who finances his own movies, runs his own production company, by all accounts is master of his own destiny and calls no man ‘Sir’ and still chooses to make movies like this? And not in aid of some higher calling or more challenging movies. He makes movies like this so he can make more movies like this. What do you call someone like that? Is there a word for it?
There should be a word for it.
Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he really doesn’t have the energy for a signoff at this point.
– there are none
– seriously, you’d think people like Josh Gad or Peter Dinklage would count as pros.
– they are not.
– every goddamned second of this move is a con
– there is no moment of it that isn’t painful