One of the earliest memories I have as an independent kid was going to an arcade game at the mall in 1981 and playing two of the newest games that came out in the last year, Defender and Donkey Kong. I had two Star Wars figurines in my pocket, about $5 in quarters with a couple of $1 bills, chewing some Big League Chew. The electric atmosphere in the arcade was infectious. All the kids, and a few adults, were huddled around another kid kicking tail on Pac Man, the last year’s newest craze, feeling the pounding music erupting from the speakers with the multi-colored black lights. It was a love affair with video games that only increased over the next two decades.
Now, when I take my kids to an arcade filled (usually at Great Wolf Lodge or some other kid-friendly establishment) with a few first-person shooters, a Fruit Ninja touchscreen game and some crane games, it makes me a little misty for the good ol’ days when you could be a superstar with a quarter and some really good hand/eye coordination. Even as a teenager going down to the Carousel Arcade (with and actual carousel inside) on Times Square, watching guys rip each other apart in Mortal Kombat or Tekken, it was a neutral ground where nerds, geeks, gang members, hoodlums, school kids, street kids or the average Joe could congregate and everyone was on the same level – or could be a gaming superstar.
Watching the trailer for this flick, it literally brought me back to those days. Even though games have changed significantly from their 8-bit predecessors, the thrill of gaming has never gone away. I’ve read the reviews and have seen the outright hatred spewed towards this movie from people whose opinion I respect and most that I don’t. Well, I think they were all partially right. The biggest problem with Pixels wasn’t the story, or even the actors – it was the jokes. In a movie where puns and double-entendres should roll off the tongue with wit and ease, they mostly fell flat. The jokes often ran on for too long and the impact just hit my funny bone with a thud. Adam Sandler (Sam Brenner) is not most people’s favorite comedian (anymore) and half the issue with the hate is mostly due to people’s objection to Adam himself. Even Peter Dinklage (Eddie Plant), who’s basically one of the most beloved actors in the business just wasn’t – funny (most of the time). That’s not to say that there were legitimately funny moments, but in general most of the humor came from things not technically meant to be funny. I think the nail in this coffin was Kevin James (President William Cooper). I’m sorry; I just couldn’t buy him as President – even less than Jamie Foxx. He was part-Albert Brennaman from Hitch (2005) and part-Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) – even down to the goofy dancing.
Visually, the movie was top-notch. How they brought the pixelated characters to life was inspired and the storyline around why they came in that fashion was simple as hell, but it kept the story moving. I give a movie that can actually make a beloved character like Pac-Man a menacing villain some kudos, even down to the “ghosts”. That whole scene with Pac-Man was thrilling and I though pretty freakin’ awesome. Even the Centipede scene was one of the cooler scenes in movies. However, visuals alone can’t completely make up for the lack of comedic charm in what’s supposed to be a fairly harmless comedy. This is not a deep film. You could pretty much tell where this movie going and what aspects of the movie were going to appear in your sleep. What it did well was really capture a bygone era in a unique and original fashion. What Wreck-It Ralph (2012) did in giving Q*bert personality, Pixels did in giving him character. Even Donkey Kong became more than a greedy, rampaging ape and developed into an alien force of barrel throwing ferocity.
See it or don’t. Enjoy it or don’t. Personally, what it lacked was jarring, but what it did well made it fun escapism. More or less.