By Gary Murray
Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James and Josh Gad
Written by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling
Directed by Chris Columbus
Running time 105 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Matinee
There have been many different films about contact with aliens. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, This Island Earth and The Day the Earth Stood Still are just a few examples of this type of storytelling. The new film Pixels takes a very different take on the event.
The story starts in 1982 and the opening of a video arcade. The kids swamp the new venture and young Brenner finds that he has some massive skills in playing such games as Pac-Man, Centipede and Galaga. Eventually, he gets into a video game tournament and loses a tournament tying game of Donkey Kong. From that moment on, Brenner is second best.
We flash forward a few decades and Brenner is a low-end technician putting in high-end video and audio equipment in Washington D.C. He is our loveable loser; a guy has not lived up to his potential.
His best buddy Cooper (Kevin James) is a bit more successful. He’s the P-resident of the United States and universally hated by the populace. They are still friends, discussing different issues.
Almost instantly Brenner has a run-in with Violet (Michelle Monaghan) who is newly divorced. They have a moment that does not end well, although Brenner seems to have a kindred soul with her son Matty (Matt Lintz).
Then, Brenner is summoned by the President. In Guam, there has been an attack from the skies. Cooper sees a pattern in the attack and asks Brenner. They both agree that it is a Galaga swarm.
It seems that the aliens got a video of the 1982 competition and believe that they have been challenged in a series of games. If the people of earth lose three different old style games, the aliens will destroy the planet. So Brenner and a team of video gamers have to invent a technology and fight the aliens.
Along the way, we get to see live action fighting of such video games as Centipede and Pac-man. Both of these sequences are some of the more impressive special effects scenes one will see this year, imaginative beyond belief. The attacking bugs of the first video game are amazing to behold. The ghosts trying to trap Pac-man with-in the streets of NYC are an impressive display of explosions and effects. By the time we get to Donkey Kong, the audience is total believers in the concept.
Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage re both secondary characters but both deliver some memorable lines. Even though Adam Sandler is the star, he lets the other comic actors get the lion’s share of the laughs. Josh especially brings crazed humor into the mix with conspiracies about the military/industrial complex.
One of the aspects of the film that is strange is with Kevin James. One feels that some of his lines and scenes have been cut to the bone. Cooper’s wife Jane Krakowski just pops up without an introduction as if her moments with Kevin James have been deleted. The two should have been fleshed out just a bit more to make the wider understanding of the film.
Pixels is directed by Chris Columbus, the guy who directed the first two and best two Harry Potter films. He finds a right balance between comedy and special effects, taking on big brass sequences and still finding little moments of humor. It is a delicate balance that the director walks and impressive feat to corral the massive amount of comedic talent he has to work with.
Pixels is a whimsical, bright surprise that should delight both kids and parents. Some of the games that are shown are still in the scant arcades that are left. It reminds one of a bygone era where a quarter could entertain a kid for an hour or more. Today, kids just hit the reset button.