Thursday, December 31, 2015

Pixels (2015) Review:

Although video games have not been around as long as the car or other significant technological advances, it certainly has an equal amount of an impact in today’s' society. Which only started as a couple lit up dots on a screen in the early 70s, has turned into a worldwide phenomenon of competitions of expanded universes with detailed landscapes as far as the eye can see. It's amazing looking at the transformation of video games. The time that was most nostalgic for much of the older generation was during the 1980s when video gaming was starting to become a big thing. Kids around the nation would line up in front of buildings filled with arcade machines looking to spend their 25 cents to see who would be the next gaming king. It was a time when things were much simpler but still just as fun. French director Patrick Jean had an interesting idea. What would it be like if the video games we used to play with began attacking our world? What would happen?

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The "Arcader" team
For the two-minute short film that Jean provided, it was a unique idea. For this big screen production of Jean's idea, the concept remains the same but now it has things added to it that don't make it as fun. Adam Sandler plays Sam Brenner, a frustrated electronics repairman who longs for his gaming days back in the 80s. However he gets this opportunity after what appears to be old video games attacking the city. So he gathers up his associates, Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow (Josh Gad) and Eddie (Peter Dinklage) to help fight back. With a screenplay penned by Tim Herlihy (a frequent Sandler collaborator) and Timothy Dowling (Role Models (2008)) knowing what might be included in the story ended up being predictable. A major element that wasn't necessary to include was the love interest subplots for multiple characters. Practically every main character has a struggling relationship with somebody and they all look to better themselves.

Brenner ends up meeting a divorced mom, Violet (Michelle Monaghan) only through forced exposition of her son. What child talks to a stranger like that? There's also Ludlow's fantasy of being with Lady Lisa from a game he plays. Even Brenner's childhood rival Eddie wants to be with Martha Stewart and Serena Williams. All these threads tally up and just pad the film making the momentum slow down. Oh and don't forget the potty humor - a trademark of Happy Madison productions. There's also a series of plot contrivances that make no sense and a number of noticeable continuity errors that add to the confusion of how some video game characters are more developed than others are. A blatant example is Q*bert; how does he have a conscience but not Pac-Man? Even with these problems, this could've been tolerable if the characters were funny. Unfortunately very few are. Kevin James plays one of the goofiest presidents seen on screen and Josh Gad plays it mostly awkward the whole time.

Sandler occasionally spews out a line worth of a chuckle because he's trying to sound like an old timer, but it's not often. The rest of the time he just sounds like he's saying whatever came to mind at the time. It doesn't even matter that Sandler is cast with his usual buddies but at least switch up the role. His female co-star is equally sporadic. Dinklage just being snobby stuck up gamer was the best part. There are other appearances from credible actors like Brian Cox, and Sean Bean but they end up being wasted. It's sad that all these issues are just as powerful as the positives. For direction at least, Chris Columbus headed this project instead of Sandler's regulars. The visuals are a nice too. The special effects that make up the video game characters and how they pixilated the surroundings is wonderfully colorful. The director of photography was Amir Mokri (Man of Steel (2013) & Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)), a guy who has plenty of work dealing with blockbuster scope films.

Q*bert's sad he wasn't used to his potential
The other bonus of to this movie is the nostalgic factor. For those who really enjoyed playing games like Asteroids, Q*bert, Frogger, Super Mario Bros., Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Centipede, Duck Hunt, Tetris, etc. - the fact that seeing these iconic games on the big screen is awesome looking. It does kind of go back to how video game movies don't work though because a gamer would rather play and be interactive than submissive and just watching a game happen. Lastly, the film score was decently made too. Composed by Henry Jackman (this would be his second video game score - his first being to Disney's Wreck-It Ralph (2012)), the score lacks a main theme but does keep the energy moving throughout the action scenes. Even for the slower scenes Jackman has tunes that sound okay. And of course, since this is a film that hearkens back to the 1980s, the soundtrack does include 80s bands like Loverboy and Queen. They even got Daryl Hall and John Oates to play a cameo. That's awesome.

The good is equally countered by the bad. It has decent music, colorful special effects, clear cinematography and a large nostalgic factor based on its library of retro video games. Sadly all this is bogged down cliche casting and character development, hit and miss comedy and not enough focus on the video games.

Points Earned --> 5:10

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