Heavy-handed and random arcade-themed actioner, with Adam Sandler
The geeks shall inherit the earth but first they have to save it in Pixels, a heavy-handed, self-satisfied ode to a generation’s misspent youth from director Chris Columbus. The latest Adam Sandler epic vaguely aims for a Ghostbusters vibe and falls far short with its mixture of flashy special effects, lazy nostalgia for 1980s pop culture and a flippant script that veers uncomfortably between family entertainment and adult wisecracks.
A prelude set in 1982 establishes the childhood bond between a group of friends and includes a Dan Aykroyd cameo, as he presides over an arcade game championship. More than 30 years later, one of those friends Will (Kevin James) has inexplicably become US President. That leaves middle-aged gamer Sam (Sandler) feeling more of an underachiever than ever, until the day aggrieved alien forces challenge Earth to a series of giant video game contests. Who you gonna call? As the Taj Mahal crumbles and Hyde Park shudders, America’s fate depends on Sam’s skill at Pac-Man and his arch nemesis Eddie 'the Fireblaster' Plant (an amusing, scene-stealing Peter Dinklage) and his expertise at Donkey Kong.
The battles to save humankind are almost secondary to settling old scores and furthering the half-hearted romance between Sam and Lieutenant Colonel Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), although some spirited performances do provide moments to savour. Sandler seems content to amble through, yet among those worthy of honourable mentions are Dinklage as the supremely arrogant Fireblaster, a fully committed Josh Gad as conspiracy theorist Ludlow and Brian Cox as a very hawkish military veteran. But ultimately the silly revenge-of-the-nerds scenario is never developed in ways that might make it truly engaging, and cameos from the likes of Serena Williams and Martha Stewart merely underline the random, oddball nature of the whole endeavour.
General release from Wed 12 Aug.