Suburban pre-teens Sam Brenner, Ludlow and Cooper cross paths in 1982 at an arcade video game tournament. Sam’s natural knack for detecting the games’ movement patterns makes him a hot contender for the top spot, but in the finals, he loses to Eddie, a rude, crude kid who has bestowed upon himself the nickname “Fireblaster.”
The sting of being merely second place haunts Sam throughout his life; he stumbles through a series of unambitious tech jobs, and during his latest gig as an audiovisual installer, he hits on one of his clients, an attractive (but divorced) suburban mom who turns out to be a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Navy. They cross paths again when Sam is summoned to the White House; his old buddy Cooper is now the President of the United States, and needs Sam’s video game expertise when a mysterious attack on a military base at Guam bears striking similarities to the enemy attack patterns of the video game Galaga. Ludlow, now a shut-in conspiracy theorist, emerges with what he believes is a message from an alien race: they have seen a transmission of the 1982 arcade tournament, along with other samples of Earth culture of the 1980s, and have interpreted it as a declaration of war. Earth has now lost a battle and lost one “life”; two more losses mean game over for the planet. Eddie, serving time for fraud, is sprung from prison and offered a pardon by Cooper if he can help Sam and Ludlow defend Earth with their gaming skills. Another attack on Earth is lost, and the 1982 arcade champions must now reunite to save the planet from repeated waves of attacks that take the form of now-out-of-date game scenarios.
screenplay by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling
based on the short film by Patrick Jean
directed by Chris Columnus
music by Henry Jackman
Cast: Adam Sandler (Brenner), Kevin James (Cooper), Michelle Monaghan (Violet), Peter Dinklage (Eddie), Josh Gad (Ludlow), Matt Lintz (Matty), Brian Cox (Admiral Porter), Sean Bean (Corporal Hill), Jane Krakowski (First Lady Jane Cooper), Dan Aykroyd (1982 Championship MC), Affion Crockett (Sergeant Dylan Cohan), Lainie Kazan (Mickey Lamonsoff), Ashley Benson (Lady Lisa), Denis Akiyama (Professor Iwatani), Tom McCarthy (Michael the Robot), Tim Herlihy (Defense Secretary), Jackie Sandler (President’s Assistant), Jared Sandler (White House Junior Aide), William S. Taylor (Navy Secretary), Rose Rollins (White House Press Secretary), Tucker Smallwood (CIA Chief), Serena Williams (herself), Martha Stewart (herself), Allen Covert (Abusive Citizen), Bill Lake (NY Police Commissioner), Mark Whelan (Colonel Devereux), Dan Patrick (White House Reporter #1), Robert Smigel (White House Reporter #2), Steve Koren (White House Reporter #3), Sadie Sandler (Lemonadie Sadie), Sunny Sandler (Sweet Scout Girl), Hannah Covert (Arcader Choir Girl), Abigail Covert (Classroom Scout Girl #1), Sienna James (Classroom Scout Girl #2), Shea James (Classroom Scout Girl #3), Chris Titone (Soccer Player), Jonathan Loughran (White House Gate Guard), Toru Iwatani (Electric Dream Factory Repairman), Anthony Ippolito (13-year-old Brenner), Jared Riley (13-year-old Cooper), Andrew Bambridge (13-year-old Eddie), Jacob Shinder (8-year-old Ludlow), Jack Fulton (Little Boy on London Street), Kevin Grady (Samurai Gamer), Bridget Graham (Cyber Chick #1), Jocelyn Hudon (Cyber Chick #2), Margaret Killingbeck (Old Woman in London Apartment), Ron Mustafa (Indian Teenage Boy), Meher Pavri (Indian Teenage Girl), Annika Pergament (News Reporter), Lamont James (SEAL #1), James Preston Rogers (SEAL #2), Bola Olubowale (SEAL #3), Rob Archer (SEAL #4), Mark Sparks (Fighter Pilot), Steve Wiebe (DARPA Scientist), Sara Haines (TV News Anchor), Derwin Phillips (Secret Service Man #1), Michael Boisvert (Secret Service Man #2), Colleen Reynolds (Abusive Citizen #1), Jimi Shlag (Abusive Citizen #2), Emily Jenkins (Abusive Citizen #3), Sistah Lois (Sergeant Cohan’s Mother), Andrew McMichael (Arcade Employee), Gary Douglas (DC Valet), Eric Trask (Warden), Susie McLean (Press Person), Daryl Hall (himself), John Oates (himself), Matt Frewer (Max Headroom)
LogBook entry and review by Earl Green
Review: Based on Patrick Jean’s CGI short which brought a nostalgia rush to YouTube in 2010, Pixels is a workmanlike action film that takes the short’s central conceit – an invasion of video game characters (complete with often-destructive tendencies) into the real world. A major motion picture, of course, has to fill more than three minutes, so some justification has to be constructed for this. (You’re over an hour into the movie, and within grabbing distance of the end credits, before a sequence arrives that really resembles Patrick Jean’s original work.)
The special effects bring such games as Galaga, Centipede and Pac-Man into the third dimension, one at a time as the initial battles against the aliens. It’s not until the final battle, when Eddie and Ludlow have to fend off a massive, multi-game, multi-character assault as Brenner must defeat his old nemesis Donkey Kong, that anything truly resembling Patrick Jean’s short is seen. As for the narrative hoops that Pixels jumps through to bring everything to that point, it’s all very familiar – it’s Ghostbusters, if you replace ghosts with alien-recreated video game characters. The working-class origins of the main characters is strongly reminiscent of Peter Venkman’s barely-organized band of paranormal investigators. Pixels hits the beats you would expect, and is fairly paint-by-numbers in its plotting.
But given that Pixels is not only an Adam Sandler flick, but an Adam Sandler flick that has to build a story to flesh out a nearly-plotless CGI effects demo that clocked in at under five minutes, you can’t expect Pixels to be Casablanca; arguably, you can’t even expect it to be Tron. You’re here to see Sandler, Josh Gad, Kevin James and Peter Dinklage rattle off wisecracks and catchphrases, and then take a break to take part in dizzyingly colorful CGI action setpieces. That’s the movie. That’s the whole movie. If you’re expecting something smarter than that, Tron Legacy is still out there on Blu-Ray. Chris Columbus of Gremlins fame brings some style to the live-action proceedings, but ultimately he has to service the effects. Sandler and company appear to have been left to their own comedic instrincts rather than given fine-grain direction.
If you go into Pixels wanting to see some old favorites breathed into menacing new CGI life for some often lowbrow-funny big-screen boss battles, it will not disappoint. If you go into Pixels wanting more, you might as well let go of the joystick, walk away, and declare “game over.” Pixels could have been better, sure, but it’s entertaining in its own right and certainly could have been worse, and is more fun than the snarky crowdsourced movie critique machine that is the internet might have led you to believe.