Every time there’s a new Adam Sandler release, I am legally required to print this disclaimer: “The Wedding Singer” was a good movie. The first two-thirds of “Funny People” was a very good movie. And “Punch-Drunk Love” was a great movie. So I try to approach every Sandler movie with an open mind.
But God knows, my open mind has gotten a lot of garbage poured into it. Could hell itself be worse than “Little Nicky”? Is there a big enough pail of water to drown the memory of “Jack and Jill?” Wasn’t an entire generation stunted by “Grown-Ups”?
A few years ago, a friend of mine actually dropped dead while watching Sandler’s “Bedtime Stories.” And that was supposed to be a warm and fuzzy one!
Sandler is back in family mode for “Pixels.” An open mind will note that it was directed by someone from outside of Sandler’s playpen: Chris Columbus, whose resume includes “Home Alone,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and the first two “Harry Potter” movies. But nope, there’s no comedy magic here. “Pixels” is a movie for a very particular audience — the 12-year-old version of Sandler and his infantile posse.
In 1982, a new video arcade opens in suburban Sandlerville. Video-game champion Sam and his friend Will excitedly grab their bicycles — and a jar full of quarters from a little girl’s lemonade stand. More than 30 years later, Sam is a lowly installer for an electronics store while idiotic Will (Kevin James) is the president of the United States. Of course.
Yet they’ve remained hang-out buddies. Now the president needs Sam’s expertise. Aliens have discovered time-capsule footage of 1980s American culture and are challenging the people of Earth to a do-or-die competition with classic arcade games on a galactic scale.
Puzzlingly, this is an alien-invasion movie where we never see the aliens. They communicate with the Earthlings via video messages modeled after the footage in the time capsule. Thus they take the guise of Ricardo Montalban, Daryl Hall and Max Headroom. (Sadly, the “Where’s the beef?” lady seems to have been left on the cutting-room floor, along with any actual jokes.)
Sam doesn’t seem especially concerned about the fate of the Earth, but working on the project allows him to get cozy with defense analyst and sexy single mom Violet (Michelle Monaghan). It also lets him reunite with some rival gamers from yesteryear, including arrogant hotshot Eddie (Peter Dinklage, who steals the movie) and fawning nerd Ludlow (Josh Gad).
“Pixels” is not in the same universe as the animated “Wreck-It Ralph,” a loving tribute to the history of video games. Here, the early-generation games being played in the skies above London and New York are blocky and bland. There’s little sense of danger as the humans fire laser cannons while dodging badly rendered asteroids and rolling barrels.
Long before you’ve gotten a nickel’s worth of entertainment out of this dumb, unfunny flick, you’ll be wishing for the flashing sign that says “Game over.”
What “Pixels” • 1½ stars out of four • Run time 1:45 • Rating PG-13 • Content Some mature language and suggestive comments