Step 1: Get in the mood. If you want lighthearted, mindless Adam Sandler entertainment and have a nostalgia for ’80s video games, then Pixels is for you.
Step 2: Set the scene. The film centers on Brenner, who as a kid in the ’80s was an arcade gaming champ, able to see patterns in games like Galaga, Pac-Man and Centipede in his head and master them. Brenner’s best friend Cooper always told him he’d amount to something, but now as adults, Brenner (Sandler) is nothing more than a tech repair guy working for a Geek Squad-type company, while Cooper (Kevin James) has become president of the United States. Yeah, quite a jump there. They are still best friends, and when it looks like Earth is being invaded by aliens who are attacking in the form of the same ’80s games they grew up playing (the why and how aren’t really important), Cooper turns to Brenner for help. In order to battle the aliens, Brenner and Cooper also need to find a few other former players. One is Ludlow (Josh Gad), a former arcade whiz kid and conspiracy theorist who thinks the CIA is infiltrating his mind, and the arrogant Eddie (Peter Dinklage), the only guy to beat Brenner in an epic Donkey Kong showdown back in the day but who is now a convict. These four are joined by single mom Violet (Michelle Monaghan), who works in military intelligence and someone Brenner takes a shine to. Together, they have to play the games of their lives to defeat the invaders. You know, the Space Invaders. Get it?
Step 3: Agree… or not. Pixels is being called THE worst movie of the year, but when was the last time a Sandler movie received glowing reviews? Pixels has many, many problems. It’s trite, so very silly and completely devoid of any genuineness, to name a few. Sandler’s usual schlub with a heart of gold drags it down every time he and the wasted Monaghan do the romantic comedy thing, but Sandler has always had a keen sense of the supporting players around him, and lets them shine. Adding Gad and Dinklage to the mix is a mini stroke of genius as they both deliver hilarious performances. It is also more family-friendly than some of Sandler’s past endeavors, so gone is the 12-year-old bathroom humor. Plus, the ’80s throwbacks are perfect, between the arcade games coming to life and the soundtrack. Sandler really loves that era with movies like this and The Wedding Singer. He likes to remember being a teenager, hitting the arcade and jamming to Lover Boy. Good times.
Step 4: Love the special effects. Directed by Chris Columbus, who knows how to give movies broad strokes, Pixels also has a whole bunch of fun with the visuals. Pac-Man devouring NYC is just plain fun, but the Centipede attack sequence in London’s Hyde Park stands out, as the sky fills with mushrooms and the centipede inches down. Being one of my favorite games of yesteryear, I felt myself punching my finger on my leg in unison as Brenner and Ludlow shoot down the bugs.
Step 5: Remember Sandler doesn’t care what you think. He makes these movies to have fun with his friends, and his fans flock to see them in droves. They know full and well what to expect and welcome it. Pixels shouldn’t disappoint them.