(PG) Starring: Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage

In 1982, the world was enjoying the new arcade games of Pac-Man, Galaga, Centipede and Donkey Kong. Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) and Will “Chewy” Cooper (Kevin James) lived for playing the latest game and finding opportunities to show off their gaming skills. They head to the World Video Game Championships where they come in contact with Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage). During the competition Sam shows his knack for seeing patterns in the games. Also at that same time in human history, NASA sent off a probe into space to attempt to connect with intelligent lifeforms. In the probe, NASA sent glimpses of ’80s culture, such as components of iconic video games.

Fast forward to 2015, the lives of these nerds have gone down different paths. Sam is an installation technician and Will has become the President of the United States. Even though they are still close friends, their life responsibilities carry different levels of significance. Until, that is, they are drawn back together when aliens attack the earth. The explanation for the attack is that extra-terrestrials received the NASA probe and saw it as declaration of war. Their response to this unintentional call to arms is to make their own life-sized versions of the classic video games and use them as pixelated weapons to attack earth.

Sam and Will have to re-connect with their former video game competitors and work with the world armed forces to fight off the nostalgic alien invasion. Similar to the life cycle in most games, the team is given three attempts by the space invaders to save the world from an Atari- inspired annihilation.


As a concept, Pixels is refreshingly original and has the potential to serve as a digital bridge between multiple generations. The other potential hope you probably have for this film is probably caused by director Chris Columbus being at the helm. He has created some great family films throughout his career, from Home Alone to the first big-screen Harry Potter adaptation. In the hands of Columbus, then, Pixels surely has the potential to go the way of fun and nostalgic hilarity.

Unfortunately, Pixels is a mess. With a modern computer-generated spin, Columbus attempts to deliver a 1980’s retro style film with ridiculous characters and situations. But he fails in his attempt, which has a lot to do with the inclusion of Adam Sandler and Kevin James as the lead characters. At this stage in their acting careers, they seem unable to deliver original comedic performances. Also, their roles are as predictable as the patterns in the old video games. They walk through their performances with little enthusiasm and with a reliance on dated comedic styles that have worn out their welcome. Co-star Josh Gad provides the potential for originality, but he falls into the trap of overacting (as if compensating for Sandler and James’ weak performances). Also, the only reasonable explanation for Peter Dinklage and Michelle Monaghan being part of this project must have been so their CVs might potentially procure a comedy. Unfortunately, they too are poorly cast in parts that any credible actor should have given a miss.

If all of these components were not bad enough, the truly frustrating thing about Pixels is the fact it is promoted as a family film. The humour and innuendo is not funny, nor is it appropriate for children. Pixels‘ marketing conveys that this film should be accessible to any generation, for them to enjoy on a Saturday afternoon. Instead, what Pixels provides is the potential for embarrassing conversations with small children on a multitude of levels. For example, why is Eddie Plant going to a bedroom with Martha Stewart and Serena Williams? Or what’s with the stalker-type mentality of Ludlow?

So much of the film was creepy to experience as an adult, much less trying to explain it to children.

I hope this review doesn’t come off as prudish. Rather, it’s aiming to hold the marketing team to account for its disservice to families.

In the concept stages, Pixels may have had the potential to be a fun adventure for people who grew up in the ’80s. Possibly, a new generation might also have enjoyed it. In the end, though, Pixels proves to be an embarrassment for those linked to this production and for anyone who might go to see it.

Bigger questions:

  1. Do we all have a role in this life?  (Proverbs 16:9, Romans 8:28)
  2. What is the Bible’s view on war? (Ecclesiastes 3:8, Matthew 26:52)
  3. Why do people still go to Adam Sandler and Kevin James films? (Proverbs 26:11)


Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger


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