Pixels is packed with vibrant visuals, period music and nostalgic charm that offsets slouchy Sandler and his brand of awkward humor.

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion but also the only word that can entirely describe Pixels – a sci-fi adventure masquerading as a comedy. While this film has every reason to fail as a comedy, it can still appeal to a specific audience – kids of the 80s, and the current generation of pre-teens yet to discover the trappings of social media.

 That’s a generation gap of 30 years, but the defining moment that bridges this gap is the mutual love for video games. Back in the day, the social norm was to get out of the house, walk to the arcade, spend a few hours with real friends, and vie for social standing as a champion gamer. It felt real with moments that bring back joyous memories that not even a thousand friends on Facebook can match today. On the flip side, gamers are still typecast as nerds, and this is what the film attempts to say. It’s 1982 and gaming prodigy Sam has a shot at the Guinness Book championship title. Backed by his gaming chums Will and Ludlow, Sam reaches the finals in a faceoff against narcissist nemesis Eddie ‘The Fire Blaster’. Also present is NASA who records the competition and sends it into space to contact alien life. Wrong move. Cut to present day and Will (Kevin James) is the President of the USA (there’s hope for gamers?) while Sam (Adam Sandler) and Ludlow (Josh Gad) are everyday losers. Turns out, those aliens did get the message but misinterpreted it as a hostile invitation. Who do you call?

 Ghostbusters zapping aliens pretty much sums up the rest of the film. While the story gets dumber by the minute (inclusive of the clichéd romance between Sandler’s Mr. Fixit and Michelle Monaghan’s White House official), director Chris Columbus alternates flat gags with solid visuals and iconic characters that wreak havoc on screen. Add to that some period music, madcap moments from Peter Dinklage as the aforementioned narcissist, Gad let loose ala Jonah Hill style from the Jump Street films, a list of clever cameos, and there’s enough reason for Pixels to generate some offbeat excitement.

The fact that Sandler is still pigeonholed as a sad-sack from his Happy Madison Productions (from Happy Gilmore to last year’s The Cobbler) can be a typical letdown for many viewers and fans alike. It’s the same reason why most of the amusement comes from the supporting cast. Even as they deliver with acceptable comic timing, the real fun is in racing back to the days of Atari or annihilating monsters at the gaming arcade. And speaking of nostalgia, look no further than Columbus, the writing genius behind all time classics like The Goonies and Gremlins – films that are as iconic as the Pac-Man and Donkey Kong games. Kids who watched those films or played those games are grownups today but for the most part, Pixels made me feel as invincible as a kid in an arcade. Game on dude!

Rating: ★★½☆☆


About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.