The latest Happy Madison production for our eyes to devour is the Chris Columbus directed Pixels. Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage, this Pac-Man induced, world-ending spectacle sees Earth attacked by classic video games from the 1980s.
When aliens misinterpret a video of the 1982 World Gaming Championships as a no-holds-barred challenge to the death, they send down a plague of classic video game characters to destroy the Earth. Former gamer Sam Brenner (Sandler) leads a gang of merry geeks – on the instructions of under pressure (and, coincidentally, BFF) US President Will Cooper (James) – including former adversary Eddie “The Fireblaster” Plant (Dinklage) and pervy internet hacker Ludlow “The Wonderkid” Lamonsoff (Gad), to defend the planet in a best of three winner-takes-all battle.
When Kevin James becomes American President – fictional or not – the world deserves to end. Columbus’ Pixels feels like a typical Sandler outing; less fart gags and cock-based innuendos than usual, but the same charmless laziness which much of his recent work carries with it.
This isn’t Grown Ups or Jack & Jill, and it’s – thankfully – no That’s My Boy, but it definitely feels like a massive opportunity missed. Donkey Kong, Pac-Man… they’re games which resonate with millions across the globe; how many brain cells have been killed off thanks to playing these simplistic yet highly addictive arcade games over the decades?
Pixels starts promisingly enough: pre-pubescent versions of our world-savers are involved in the gaming World Championships – a geek’s heaven full of hopes, dreams and square eyes. Yet this is where the nostalgia factor ends. A patchy underdog tale quickly descends into humourless fodder where childhood memories are manipulated into spectacularly unfunny (and sometimes rather creepy) gags – where nerdy is seen as less sweet, and more prison-worthy perverted. Ludlow’s stalker-ish behaviour towards video-game-character-turned-sexual-object, Lady Lea (Ashley Benson), and Eddie Plant’s less-than-subtle threesome gag involving the cameoing Martha Stewart and tennis star Serena Williams, will leave you asking: are all geeks worryingly obsessive pervs?
Throw in the usual Sandler/Happy Madison clichés and cameos (here’s looking at you Jonathan Loughran and Nick Swardson!), added to the shamefully wasted talents of Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage and Michelle Monaghan – a high profile official whose sole purpose is to act as Sandler’s love interest – and you’ve got a colossal waste. Not quite childhood destroying, but Pixels – in all its lazy glory – turns video gaming exploits into a world-ending soul destroyer.