Posted on July 23, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments
Profanity: A few bad words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, including drinking to deal with stress and alcohol humor
Violence/ Scariness: Sci-fi action-style violence, no one permanently injured
Diversity Issues: Some sexist and homophobic "humor"
Date Released to Theaters: July 24, 2015
Date Released to DVD: October 26, 2015
Copyright Sony 2015

I never thought I’d see Max Headroom or “Fantasy Island” again, much less have to explain them to someone sitting next to me who was a toddler when they were on television, but Adam Sandler is still relentlessly working his slacker way through every pop culture meme of the decade where he spent his late teens and early 20’s, and apparently the last decade he was willing to pay attention to. He’s used up most of the good ones. That means that this is another film that was pieced together from the cutting room floors of his previous movies plus VH1’s “I Love the 80’s” series. Yes, I know that it is impossible to believe that there was anything worth remembering that happened in the 80’s that they did not cover. And yet, here we are, with a movie about 1980’s arcade games that have become real-life alien invaders. If you remember and retain some affection for games like Frogger, Pac-Man, Tetris, and Q*bert, or if you like Sandler and are relieved he is not making “Grown-Ups 3,” then you might get a few smiles out of “Pixels.”

Grading on a curve, it is tempting to provide some positive reinforcement for Sandler, who in the hands of director Chris Columbus, is better than some of his recent films. But just because it is safe to say he probably will not be a winner at the Razzies this year does not merit him an endorsement. This movie is less predictable and less entertaining than the charmingly retro 8 bit games to which it pays tribute. And unfortunately, one more element carried over from the 80’s is the idea that homophobic and sexist jokes are funny and permissible. Having a female character be a capable military officer does not mean that it is okay to have the other female characters be one-dimensional (literally, one one case).

Sandler, looking puffy and bored, plays Sam, a Geek Squad-style technician who installs fancy television and gaming equipment in people’s homes. In a flashback, we see that as a kid, he had a natural facility to recognize the patterns in arcade games and made it to second in a national competition. The winner was Eddie (Peter Dinklage from “Game of Thrones”), a mullet-coiffed braggart who triumphed over him in the final round. Another competitor was a whiz kid named Ludlow (Josh Gad, “Frozen’s” Olaf) with poor social skills, conspiracy theories, and a pretty pervy obsession with a video game avatar. And Sam’s loyal friend and supporter was Cooper (Kevin James).

Footage of the competition was sent into space to introduce the galactic community to life on Earth. But it was misinterpreted as a declaration of war, and now the aliens have arrived. Just as in the era of arcade games, they wreak destruction by dissolving everything around them into pixels, according to the same rules and patterns of the original games. Fortunately, if improbably, Cooper is now the President of the United States. So he is able to call on Sam, Eddie (who has to be sprung from prison), and Ludlow to save the day. Helping to coordinate the defense is Violet (Michelle Monaghan), first met by Sam when he is installing a television/game system in her home and finds her sobbing in the closet over her husband leaving her for a Pilates instructor named Sinnamon (with an S) and he comforts and then hits on her. But it turns out that she is actually a top military officer who can muster whole new categories of weapons, train the SEALS, and engage in sizzle-free romantic banter at the same time.

The effects in the battle scenes are fun, turning these very rudimentary characters into real space invaders without losing their iconic 8 bit design. Centipede in particular is impressive, glowing like a Chinese New Year Parade dragon made from Lite-Brite as he slithers through the mushrooms. Like some of the other arcade characters, he is far more vivid and has more personality than the humans in the story.

Parents should know that this film has a handful of bad words, potty humor, sci-fi/action violence with peril and apparent injuries, brief comic view of a portion of a bare butt, and comic but crude sexual references including a threesome. There are alcohol jokes and alcohol is used to deal with stress.

Family discussion: Why did coming in second change Sam’s life? Is Violet a snob? How could the skills you have help save the planet?

If you like this, try: “The King of Kong,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” and “Galaxy Quest”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Science-Fiction