Pixels Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad. Directed by Chris Columbus. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
In 2010, French filmmaker Patrick Jean directed a two-minute short film called Pixels, which depicts the destruction of New York City by a brigade of 1980s video-game characters. It’s essentially a special-effects demo reel, one with an eye-catching premise that helped it become a viral online sensation. As with anything popular, Hollywood pounced on it, and Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company won the rights to turn Pixels into a feature film.
Sadly, they’ve turned it into an Adam Sandler film, albeit one slightly less lazy and obnoxious than his other recent efforts. Of course, calling Pixels one of Sandler’s better movies is like calling a particular strain of Ebola somewhat less horrifically painful; either way, it’s not pleasant. Sandler barely seems awake in his role as loser Sam Brenner, who peaked at 13 when he won a video-game championship. When aliens invade Earth with replicas of ’80s video-game characters, Sam’s best friend (Kevin James), who happens to be the U.S. president, calls on Sam and his fellow video-game nerds to save the day.
Directed by Hollywood veteran Chris Columbus, Pixels aims for a mix of Ghostbusters and Independence Day, but it can barely keep Jean’s original concept afloat long enough to make it to feature length. The humor is a mix of Sandler’s typical sour misanthropy (his “romance” with a military official played by Michelle Monaghan is disgustingly regressive) and random ’80s pop-culture references. It’s mostly genial and family-friendly, but also plodding and frequently boring, with listless performances and a moronic plot. Jean’s short was clever, fun, visually striking and over in two minutes. The feature version has Adam Sandler.