Review By Lakita – a.k.a. @artshumana
A movie like “Pixels” is usually a recipe for easy money in Hollywood’s summer cookbook: A tale with a crisp premise and a juicy, nostalgic core. (Do watch the animated short film that inspired Pixels by French director Jean Patrick). Unfortunately what Pixels actually cooks up really leaves a bad taste in your mouth (and mind) through the onslaught of corny lines, sexist subtext, and shallow characters. I found myself wishing I was Ms. Pac-Man on the chase in search of a “better story” power pellet. In other words, “Pixels” made me want to hit the RESET button and go console myself!
The tragedy of “Pixels” is that it did not have to be so awful. The movie is based on a clever short film and they were able to secure the rights to some of the most beloved games from the arcade era. Hey, even the beginning scenes of the movie worked. “Pixels” starts out with life circa 1982 with childhood friends Adam Sandler’s Sam Brenner and Kevin James’s Will Cooper at the arcade. They also meet and befriend outcast and arcade regular Ludlow Lamonsoff, played by Josh Gad–most notable for his adorkable turn in Kevin Hart’s “The Wedding Ringer.” We quickly establish that Sam Brenner has a gift for arcade gaming. Will conveniently encourages him to enter the 1982 Worldwide Arcade Championships conveniently sponsored by NASA. At the Championships Brenner battles a brash arcader known as Eddie “The Fireblaster” (who as an adult is played by “Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage). It is not surprising these throwback childhood scenes pull together–director Chris Columbus along with the late John Hughes helped define the teen triumph films of the 80s.
But once we move into the present-day, things quickly deteriorate. Adam Sandler’s character is still BFF with Kevin James’s character–and Kevin James is now President of the United States of America. Michelle Monaghan portrays Violet, who gets the dubious honor of being “the hard-won love interest in an Adam Sandler movie”. Violet is recently divorced and leads special initiatives at DARPA while attending to the needs of her young son (actor Matt Lintz).
In one painful scene, Adam Sandler’s character actually yells at Violet when she presents her strategy to defeat the alien attacks in the White House Situation Room. His character says something like “Who asked you to speak? You don’t even have a place at the table.” Ouch. Surely Adam Sandler and Chris Columbus have heard of #Gamergate? The arcade and gaming world is portrayed as an exclusively male domain in “Pixels”, by the way. Surely Adam Sandler and Chris Columbus are aware of federal initiatives to support women and girls in STEM careers and surely they know that NASA has made major strides in providing pathways for women in data science? And surely they are aware that we live in a world where the brilliant Megan Smith is the Chief Technology Officer of the United States and the first “gamer” post in the White House was held by Dr. Constance Steinkuehler. Kevin James as President of the United States?–I can suspend belief, sure. But when you tell me a woman in a high-level STEM position at the White House gets told to ‘shut it’ by Adam Sandler and the President is okay with that–that is a bridge too far! With equity issues in STEM fields, ‘boss battles’ and ‘one-ups’ take on a different meaning; “Pixels” is egregiously out of touch with these issues. Frankly, “Sharknado 3″ in all its campy glory did a better job of depicting Washington, DC life than “Pixels!”
At its 8bit blinking heart, “Pixels” is an awful nostalgia film. A good nostalgia film recaptures the feels of the older generation while still finding values that resonate with younger movie-goers. Instead “Pixels” pulls an unfortunate film ‘bait & switch’–it lures you in with the game characters you grew up with and then gives you a movie that so desperately needs to LEVEL UP and GROW UP. Take my advice and don’t touch this ‘joyschtick’ from Adam Sandler.
Author – Lakita’s geek force within was first publicly observed when she bopped to Herbie Hancock’s “Rock It” video as a very young child. This same said force was nurtured in adolescence through many weekends watching “Star Trek: Original Series” with her father and VHS binge-reserving “The Twilight Zone” television series from her nearest nerd sanctuary, the public library! Lakita also considers herself a public service “lifer” and supports youth voice inspired and empowered by the arts. A live tweeter and competitive trivia leaguer with dreams of learning esperanto or coding one day (whichever comes first), you can usually find her on twitter: @artshumana