When Pixels came out earlier this year, everyone took their turns hating on it. I was excited to see it because of the Toronto connection (I walked through a literal war zone near my girlfriend’s apartment on Queen West), but there was not much else drawing me to it. And after watching the movie, I can say I did make the right decision skipping the theatre.
It’s not that Pixels is a bad movie — no, it is certainly far from. There is a lot of fun and wild imagination going into some of the battles with classic 1980’s video game characters. If you know the characters and the games, then you will be astounded by some of the details that have gone into bringing these characters to life. And they all look and sound authentic to the time period — a feat in itself considering the money that must have gone into licensing them all (Mario shows up for a brief cameo, and I’m sure that alone cost millions). It reminded me a lot of the wonder I had watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit? when I was a kid, and the fascination I have to this day of seeing Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse talking to each other.
But the movie around these characters is nearly lifeless. Josh Gad gives it everything he’s got (and even busts out his angelic singing voice) and Peter Dinklage has fun hamming it up. But everyone else is either badly miscast (like Kevin James as the President of the United States?!?!) or thinks they are acting in an entirely different movie (like Brian Cox and Sean Bean, whose gravitas and intensity go underused). Michelle Monaghan gets a little more to do than the usual Adam Sandler love interest, but her development gets stifled and completely thrown out by the third act.
Which brings me to Sandler himself. After watching this, I need to genuinely ask if he’s given up as an actor. He brought his serious chops to his small role in Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children, but he seems morose and bored through all of his own projects. There is no inflection, no excitement and little to no emotion on his face through Pixels — he just seems keen on delivering the lines, collecting the paycheque and going home. What’s the point of acting in the movie when you do not even want to try? Why not cast yourself in a supporting role, or better yet, just be a producer and not appear on-screen at all?
Sandler gets a bad rap from critics, so I can understand why he has started to retreat. But he has really started to alienate his own audience now too. So if he wants to keep making money, he needs to re-evaluate his career choices quickly. The last time I was genuinely impressed with him was in Judd Apatow’s misguided Funny People. And I can genuinely say that was likely the last time we saw Sandler truly trying. And with the first trailer of his first Netflix-produced film The Ridiculous 6 showing up today, I doubt we’ll see that Sandler again any time soon.
To avoid disappointment, try watching the real short that inspired Pixels instead!