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Movie Night – 'Pixels' gets points for being original (Jan. 20, 2016 issue)

Adam Sandler hasn’t exactly been on a roll lately. In fact, other than playing the voice of Dracula in the “Hotel Transylvania” movies, you have to go back to “50 First Dates” in 2004 to find a movie starring Sandler that was actually good. “Pixels” both bombed at the box office and was panned by critics. But, surprisingly, it’s not as bad as expected.
The year 1982 was smack in the middle of the heyday of video arcades. Kids flocked to arcades in droves to play simple video games with bad graphics in huge boxes for a quarter per play. And it was awesome. Sam Brenner (Sandler) is a 13-year-old video game master. He memorizes the patterns of the games and knows in advance how to win. The only exception is the game of Donkey Kong. At the highest levels of Donkey Kong, the barrels are thrown so quickly that there is no discernible pattern.
Brenner and his best friend Will Cooper (Kevin James) enter a 1982 video game championship. There they meet Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gadd), a boy with no friends, and Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage), a hot-shot video game pro who beats Brenner in the championship round to claim the title. Footage of this tournament and copies of the video games they played are then placed in a time capsule that is sent into outer space as evidence of our culture on Earth.
Over thirty years later an American military base in Guam is attacked by UFOs that turn everything into small glowing cubes, or pixels. The aliens received the time capsule and rather than realizing that the capsule contains a sample of our culture, the aliens took the video games as a declaration of war. They begin sending real-life versions of the classic video games to destroy earth.
Who on Earth would be best equipped to fight classic video games? Video game masters, of course. The world comes to rely on Brenner, Cooper, Lamonsoff, and Plant to destroy the video games and save the planet.
“Pixels” carries a certain nostalgia with it to those of us who grew up in the 1980s. The names of the video games (Centipede, Pac Man, Galaga, and Donkey Kong, just to name a few) will be familiar to just about everyone, but the movie is more enjoyable to those who loved those video games as a child.
“Pixels” definitely gets points for being original. The idea is so outlandish that it had never occurred to anyone before. There are some scenes that go a little overboard with silliness, but that’s unavoidable in a movie about classic video games returning to Earth to destroy the planet.
The main question is whether “Pixels” is funny. It’s definitely not laugh-out-loud-fall-out-of-your-seat funny. In places it’s clever and cute and humorous. It’s the type of funny that makes you grin, not the type of funny that makes your stomach hurt and eyes water from uncontrolled laughter.
The acting in the movie was adequate. There are no great acting performances, but the filmmakers didn’t intend to make a movie filled with Oscar nominations. The actors did their jobs well, they just weren’t given great characters or great lines. “Pixels” is not the kind of movie that lends itself to any type of awards other than Razzies.
Enjoying “Pixels” is all about managing expectations. If you order it On Demand or rent it from Redbox expecting a great movie that keeps you laughing from beginning to end, you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you watch it expecting to be mildly entertained by a movie that the entire family can enjoy, “Pixels” may be worth your money as a rental.
Grade: B-
Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments.