Pixels is a silly comedy that has an ingenious premise, one that speaks to gamers young and old who spend way too much time playing video games. In 1982 the U.S. sent a space probe time capsule into orbit that included arcade games. The extraterrestrial life forms that received the probe interpreted it as a declaration of war. Not good. Now Earth is being attacked in the form of Galaga, Centipede, Pac-Man, Asteroids, Defender, and other classic games. This means the people best suited to combat the attacks are a select group of video game champions from the early ’80s, a motley bunch of adults to say the least.
Sam (Adam Sandler), now an audio/visual installation guy for a company called Nerd” was runner-up at the ’82 world video game championships to Eddie (Peter Dinklage), who calls himself the Fire Blaster. He’s also now in prison. Ludlow (Josh Gad), today a conspiracy theorist who believes JFK fired first, remains in love with a game character named Lisa (Ashley Benson) and is a legit wacko. The only guy who made something of himself after video game nerd-dom is Will (Kevin James), who’s the president of the United States. Just imagine bumbling buffoon Kevin James as the president, and if you find that thought amusing, you’ll probably enjoy this movie.
With the alien takeover of the world palpably real, these “Arcaders” are called in when the Navy Seals and other military forces fail. Director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) excels at combining heart and humor with visual effects action, so it’s a telling sign of the film’s overall quality that we laugh throughout and enjoy the substantial effects work, which looks appropriately old school while being sleek and cutting edge. And in keeping things light, Columbus allows us to embrace the love story with Sam and Violet (Michelle Monaghan), whose son Matty (Matt Lintz) considers modern games Halo and Call of Duty “classics.” How little he knows. Cameos from Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Serena Williams, Dan Aykroyd and Jane Krakowski also keep smiles coming.
Of course it’s stupid. But if you go into an Adam Sandler comedy about ’80s video games expecting the secrets to the universe, perhaps the stupid one is looking at you in the mirror. Let’s call Pixels what it is: A funny lark that’ll remind ’80s children of their youth and is enjoyable enough for today’s kids, many of whom have never heard of the games featured here.