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Pixels (2015)
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PIXELS (2015)

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Matt Lintz

Written By: Tim Herlihy (also screen story), Timothy Dowling, Patrick Jean (short film)

Directed By: Chris Columbus

The Shot

Pixels ain’t rocket science or Academy gold, and its family friendliness is questionable, but if retro gaming is or was your thing, it’s still a blast despite its flaws.

The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Where’s the beef?  Pepper Pete’s workin’ on it, because it’s BURGERTIME!

Pairs Well With...


Kickin’ back to 1982.  Hit the right bar thirty-three years on, and you can still get twelve ounces for a quarter.  Ouch.  (If that ain’t your speed, you can always try for chardonnay in a sippy cup.)

“We’re making a beer commercial.”

So.  Hollywood did the impossible.  It found a way to get me to voluntarily see an Adam Sandler flick.  In a theatre.  For the first showing on opening night.

Full disclosure: up to this point, I have either disliked or flat out hated anything I’ve ever had exposure to that involved Adam Sandler.  Never liked him on “Saturday Night Live.”  Can’t stand his “music.”  Can’t stand any of his movies that I’ve been dragged to.  Swore I’d never review anything he starred in, because it would violate my cardinal rule of only reviewing flicks that there’s at least a snowball’s chance in hell that I might enjoy.  (Hardly seems fair otherwise, you know?)

But… Hollywood found a way.  That way was to put him in a movie that happened to be about space aliens using gigantic versions of 1980s video game characters to invade the Earth.  (Kinda) Well played, Hollywood.  (Kinda) Well played.

This “invasion” occurs after an alien species discovers a space probe that was launched from Earth back in 1982: a probe that included a videotape of a video game championship match as an example of human popular culture.  The aliens misinterpreted the message as a declaration of war and the setting of rules for combat.  Now it’s up to the heroes of that long-ago video game tournament to save the Earth from certain destruction by the likes of Galaga, Centipede, Pac Man, and Donkey Kong!

Ridiculous premise?  Yes; yes, it is.  But for anyone who’s ever popped quarters at an old style video arcade, it also happens to be a siren song.

And whenever the video game characters show up on screen, Pixels is a “totally tubular” blast that is, indeed, way better than I’d ever dared to hope for.  The gaming and invasion sequences are brilliant: lovingly crafted, smartly plotted, commendably true to the mechanics of the original games, infectiously fun, and hot damn the visual effects on those things are gorgeous.  (Stereoscope is optional, but those who do opt for the gimmick glasses are treated to some very beautifully rendered stuff.)  Toss in some additional pop culture references (Max Headroom!) and some well placed early 80s hits (the fact that I don’t like Spandau Ballet makes it all the more fitting for me that “True” plays as the harbinger to an alien attack), and Pixels has the potential to be a way cool, totally rad party in a box for any nostalgic retro gamer.

Even Adam Sandler and Kevin James – yes, Happy Gilmore and Paul Blart: Mall Cop themselves – couldn’t ruin Pixels for me.  Indeed, much to my shock and amazement, Sandler’s character is never annoying; he’s even, dare I say it, kinda charismatic. (Oddly enough, the Required By Action Comedy Law romantic subplot is only strained by the fact that the characters played by Sandler and Michelle Monaghan have to pretend to dislike each other; their chemistry is too good for that to be believable.)  And even though Kevin James does play an exceptionally moronic President of the United States, he manages to avoid going totally over the top, and keeps the unbearable stupidity in check.  Thus, despite my major misgivings going in, I’m actually okay with these two.

So imagine my surprise and dismay when I discovered that Pixels – which oh so easily had the potential to be great fun without any reservations at all – takes a massive nosedive around the one person I didn’t expect to be at the center of any problems: Peter Dinklage.

To be clear, I’m not blaming the actor (easily recognized from either “Game of Thrones” or X-Men: Days of Future Past, depending on your fandom) himself; he’s just playing the part that’s been written for him, and the only mark one might be able to put against him is that he plays it too well.  Alas, Dinklage’s character of “Fire Blaster” is a disgusting, Rated “R” pig dropped into the middle of an otherwise fairly family friendly movie.  I’m all for subtle adult humor in these things – I love it, in fact – but the over the top trash that swirls around this character is just too much and really feels out of place here.  (For example: the constant running reference to a “Martha Stewart and Serena Williams sandwich” in a flick like Pixels is never funny and is frankly appalling, made worse by the fact that somehow both women were convinced to go along with it and show up in the movie as themselves.)  This single character and all of the crap that the script sticks to him (since apparently someone decided that the majority of the sexism and other nasty things that are often associated with Adam Sandler’s material should be deflected onto someone else in this screenplay) very nearly ruins the entire film for me. 

But then there’s Q*Bert.  And Professor Toru Iwatani, the guy who invented Pac Man.  (No, not that guy; the one you see on the screen identified as Iwatani-san is actor Denis Akiyama.  The real Professor Iwatani doesn’t speak English, so he appears as a repairman in the early arcade scene.)  And Sean Bean.  And Pepper Pete.  And – I will say it again – Max Headroom, properly voiced by Matt Frewer.  And Frogger.  The magic I showed up to see is there, and it’s fun and it’s beautiful, and even a raunchy, totally-out-of-place pigboy can’t kill it.

He can, though, cause me to say that you’re probably fine waiting for Pixels to hit home video, though if you do decide to pony up for the big screen, you’ll score a bonus from seeing the gorgeous visual effects on the game characters in all of their larger-than-life splendor.  Just remember that this was never meant to be either brain surgery or an Oscar contender, and that Pixels isn’t Pixar.  Keep the expectations low and real, and there’s still a blast to be had despite the garbage, but you’ll definitely want to reconsider bringing the kids if you were originally thinking “family night.”

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2015

In case you’re wondering, once upon a time, Ziggy was able to beat “Narc,” “Street Fighter II,” and “Double Dragon” on single quarters (or two in the case of “Narc,” which cost 50 cents to play), and held the record on “Dig Dug” at a certain arcade for quite a while.

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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